The High Potential’s Advantage: A book review by Bob Morris

The High Potential’s Advantage (US only 4/17): Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader
Jay A. Conger and Allan H. Church
Harvard Business Review Press (2018)

“Potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Darrell Royal

I agree with Coach Royal to a point, but learned long ago that quoting his comment can intimidate and discourage some people who already feel insecure. (He originally said it to caution the UT boosters and sportswriters who were predicting that his football team had the potential to win a national championship.) Jay A. Conger and Allan H. Church wrote this book for people who wonder what it means to be a high potential candidate for a senior management position and how to become one.

Here is the core finding of Conger and Church’s rigorous and extensive research: “five critical skills differentiate high potentials from everyone else. We call them the X factors of high potential.” None of the five is a head snapping revelation:

1. Situation Sensing: They build trust with their bosses
2. Talent Accelerating: They focus on their team’s development
3. Career Piloting: They prepare for increasingly more difficult assignments ahead
4. Complexity translating: They convert data into compelling insights
5. Catalytic learning: They convert insights into performance

For those who aspire to become a high potential, the great value of this book is that after Conger and Church carefully identify the WHAT, they devote most of their attention to explaining the HOW. The information, insights, and counsel in this book will also be of great value to those who supervise those aspirants. Each year, U.S. companies spent billions of dollars on formal training programs that lose — within twelve months — most (if not all) of their impact on what participants do and how they do it.

Great supervisors resemble gardeners in that they all have a “green thumb” for “growing” ordinary people who — over time — produce extraordinary results. Accelerating personal growth and professional development is an on-going process that traditional training does little (if anything) to support.

I want to make a special point of commending Conger and Church on their skillful used of thought-provoking exercises and mini-commentaries that enable their reader to interact directly with material throughout the lively and eloquent narrative. Be sure to check out these passages:

o Do You Have the Right Stuff? A Self-Assessment of the High Potential X Factors (Pages 18-19)
o Thinking at Levels Above Your Owen (33)
o A Checklist for Reading Your Boss’s Style (42-43)
o The Questions Your Boss Asks in Assessing Your Capability at Talent Accelerating (56-57)
o Are You and Effective Career Pilot? (79)
o How to Manage Ambiguity in Your Assignments (86-87)
o The Assignments You’ll Encounter as a Higbh Potential (92-94)
o What’s Expected of an Effective Complexity Translator (102-103)
o Are You a Catalytic Learner? (132-133)
o SimpleBehavioral Interview Topics (165)
o How You Can Lose Your High-Potential Status (217-218

Also, pay close attention to the end-of-chapter “Summary Lessons.” They and highlighted passages (I use an optic yellow Sharpie) will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. I strongly recommend having a lined notebook near at hand (I use a Mead “Marble” wide-rule model) in which to record questions, comments, and page references, and especially when completing the self-assessments.

When concluding their brilliant book, Jay A. Conger and Allan H. Church offer four rock-solid suggestions in response to a question an astute reader will ask: “What do I do now?” More specifically,”a few formal and informal ways in which you can solicit feedback to help you pinpoint your strengths and development opportunities, as well as track your progress,” adding “Good luck on your journey.”

This book can serve several practical functions, including those of a mirror, a window, a compass, and a map. Use them well. Bon voyage!


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