Unleash Your High Potentials: Turning Doers Into Drivers

03/20/2015 06:57 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015

When I'm working with leaders and high potentials to identify their development gaps, one of the most common hurdles I see is the inability to switch from being Doers to Drivers.

What does that mean exactly? The Doers within an organization have built a successful career on getting things done, tackling the details, keeping all of the balls in the air. Unfortunately, a new set of unwritten rules comes into play when they try to make that critical transition into upper-level management. The competition is no longer based on the sheer quantity of their tangible accomplishments; instead, they are judged on their ability to involve, lead and inspire other people.

The Doers become frustrated when their usual formula for success no longer works, and their top executives certainly share that frustration. Unless the Doers can shift to become Drivers - adding value by genuinely leading rather than just managing --- their careers will never get access to the fast lane. The new scorecard is all about delegating and strategizing, innovating and motivating. Even some of the most talented people can sometimes fail to recognize that the game has changed. If your high potentials aren't operating at top speed despite your best efforts, this could be the culprit.

If your organization is striving to push your high potentials to the next level, there are some practical strategies to help you increase the Driver-to-Doer ratio for your business. Consider these ideas to remove the hidden obstacles to success, accelerating the performance of your leaders as well as your company.

• Strategically pair your promising middle managers with successful executive leaders who can demonstrate the skill of "driving" rather than "doing," helping them to understand the changing expectations involved with senior-level management. Encourage them to observe how the Driver-mentors spend their time during the day. Do they immerse themselves in to-do lists or push themselves to look at the big picture? Who do they spend their time interacting with?

• Provide specialized coaching in the area of image management and emotional intelligence to help nurture their executive presence. Like it or not, credibility is often based on how others see and experience us. Those who can enhance their image and demeanor to more closely match the company's most admired executives can gain credibility and subtly increase their capacity to lead and influence others.

• Guide your targeted managers to become stronger thought leaders in key areas. Thought leaders develop an area of expertise that is valuable to their companies, and they actively apply their knowledge in a way that results in a unique understanding or a distinct opinion about that topic. They can spot trends and see implications in this area much more clearly than their counterparts. Identify unique areas of expertise within your high-potential group, and actively nurture those through professional development and specific business opportunities.

• Deliberately change the type of assignments you give to these rising candidates so you can "test" their agility and evaluate a broader set of competencies.

• Let your high potentials know the value they bring to the organization to generate loyalty. Be clear that you are investing in them to take on more responsibility and ultimately become the "face" of your brand as a top leader.

In my experience, senior executives find that Doers respond quite well to guidance in this new direction, quickly growing in confidence and developing a more robust leadership persona with real traction. The previously stalled high potentials often regain their strong momentum once they understand the new rules. What about the organizations that invest in this learning process? They consistently discover that helping their high potentials cross over the bridge from Doer to Driver generates positive benefits and a formidable competitive advantage.

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