Principle 2: Potential

We’re making progress! So far, we’ve explained what the Promotion Principles are about, and started to get into each one with an overview of Performance.

Today, we’re going to cover Promotion Priniciple 2: Potential.

Potential: What it’s about and why it matters


Potential is about your ability to successfully take on more at work.

While the Performance Principle is about where you’ve been and what you’ve done (and how well others know about it), the Potential Principle is about where you can go and what you can do next.

Being viewed as a high performer is important for job security, and a factor for career advancement, but being known as a high potential is essential to earning a promotion.

You, your boss, and other leaders, need to recognize and believe in your potential—in your ability to take on more at work.

More Important Work

However, an important distinction is potential does not mean your ability to be a workhorse and take on more work, it’s about your ability to take on more important work. Work that is more valued and impactful to the business.

I’ve seen many professionals who pride themselves on the amount of work they manage—all the extra hours, late nights, and weekend work. When it comes to annual review time, they come prepared with a laundry list of the projects they delivered.

And while they will likely earn positive ratings because of their hard work, and possibly a healthy pay raise, they will become incredibly frustrated when they are passed over for a promotion. And even more upset when they see a colleague who doesn’t work as “hard” as they do move up the ladder.

It’s critical to recognize the difference. Taking on more and more work may help keep you safely employed in your current role. But it doesn’t do much to show you’re ready to move to the next level. You need others to see your potential to take on more — be a high-potential!

Signs you’re seen as a high potential

Not sure if you’re seen as a high potential employee or not? Here’s some sure signs your company believes you’ve got what it takes:


1) You’re on the list.

HR teams work with managers to identify their high-potential employees, usually based on a method like the 9-box grid that places all employees in a box based on performance and potential. While most companies keep this info confidential, I’ve seen some managers tell their high potentials where they placed in the boxes. So, it’s worth asking your manager. If they won’t tell you, I’m sorry to say it probably means you’re not seen as a high potential.


2) You’re given special treatment.

High potentials are invited to join select professional development programs, trainings that aren’t generally available to all employees. Often this comes in the form of emerging leadership programs. Or, you could be asked to spearhead a special project or high-profile assignment. This could be a type of stretch assignment used to test your readiness for next-level responsibilities.


3) You get time with company VIPs.

If you’ve been identified as a high-potential employee, you can expect to spend more time with higher ups in your company. It’s important your immediate manager see your potential, but equally important, your manager will want others to weigh in on your abilities as well.

You could be invited to special meet-and-greets with executives, and possibly board members too. These opportunities are both a way to further cement your position as a high potential with the people that matter most in your career advancement, as well as receive even more coaching and mentoring.

High-potential status is fluid

It’s important to note that being recognized as a high potential (or not) isn’t a static state. Just because you’re not seen as a high potential now, doesn’t mean you can’t be in the future. And conversely, just because one is on the HiPo list this year, doesn’t mean it will continue to be true next year. 

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen many coworkers come and go on the “HiPo” list, including myself. But bottom line, if career advancement is important to you, it is essential to be seen as a high potential.

Common blockers to being recognized as a high potential.

There could be a host of reasons why you’re not seen as a high potential employee—like having a fixed mindset, or not being comfortable with change, or not working in harmony with your company’s values.

But there are three behaviors that stood out from my time in corporate America—actions that frequently blocked talented, top performing employees from being seen as high potentials:


1) Too Quiet.

If your approach at work is to find a seat in the back of the room, quietly listening while your co-workers do the talking, then there’s no way anyone will know if you have potential or not. In fact, people may not even remember you were in the meeting (not good!).

You must resist the urge to check out or be silent in meetings. Speak up and say something smart!

Even if you’re listening intently, others will perceive your quietness as either 1) you don’t care about the conversation, or 2) you have nothing valuable to offer. Neither helps you be seen as someone with much potential.


2) Too Much.

While being too quiet is certainly problematic, the opposite is also true. Too much talking, rambling, or over explaining, can be a big blocker to being seen as a high potential.

If you are unable to succinctly share your perspective, or simply explain a topic, or briefly answer a question, then others will shut down and stop listening. Rather than see you as a high potential, they will see your potential to waste their precious time.

A very important skill one must learn is to adapt your message to your audience, and with senior leaders the guidance I followed was to be brief, be bright, and be gone .

3) Too Comfortable.

When is the last time you put yourself out there? Took a risk where you could fall flat? Behaved in a way that strayed from your natural tendencies? If you aren’t pushing yourself outside your comfort zone on a regular basis, you’re not learning and developing. You are stagnating, and that certainly doesn’t scream high potential.

If it makes you uncomfortable to lead a discussion, ask your manager to give you a stretch assignment that puts you in a position to do exactly this. This conversation alone will speak volumes to your boss, as they recognize you have a desire to learn and grow—signs of a high potential employee!



Do you relate to any of these signs of success or coming blockers? When is the last time you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone? Please share in the comments below!

Up Next…

This post introduced the basic blocking and tackling on what high potential means and why it’s important. In a future post we’ll cover the many ways to position yourself as a high potential.

Next, we’ll cover the third Promotion Principle: Presence.

>>> Want to hear from others who have succeeded in getting promoted? Check out the Promotion Stories! <<<




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