High Potentials: Get Engaged or Wave Goodbye

by Alli Polin on August 30, 2013

If you can't promote your high potential leaders invest in their learning and growth

I had always been a go-getter at work; taking on large project loads, in the creative mix, and engaged with my work… that was, until I hit a wall nearly 10 years into my tenure with my company.  The wall happened to be my boss, and he wasn’t going anywhere.  Essentially, the problem was that I was steadily promoted early in my career, coupled with a move from a merit based part of the business to a position based line of business.  As opposed to consulting, in HR, I was stuck at level until a position above me opened up which seemed like it would happen, well, never.

My boss’s boss called me up on the phone one day and told me, “Alli, you’re doing a great job.  We’re so glad you’re on the team.  As soon as Dan gets hit by a bus, the position is yours.”  Motivating?  I think not.  Did I really want someone to die so my career could move forward?

Luckily, my boss’s boss was (and still is) a smart guy and he decided to do a few things to make sure I didn’t walk out the door while waiting for the bus.

  • He empowerd me to design, lead and run special projects that had visibility at the most senior levels
  • He nominated me for cross-division leadership opportunities that enabled me to expand my reach while staying in role
  • He encouraged me to take seeds of ideas and make them grow but he didn’t dictate the final outcome

Yes, I took on a lot of extra work but I also got to do the thing I love the most: doing creative, interesting, challenging, never before tackled work with smart people.

Instead of giving me an “atta’ girl, keep on doing what your doing” he continued to do the one thing that would retain me; made sure I continued growing.

As individuals, we often feel stuck in our roles and stuck in our positions.

We long for promotion as if that will make life so much better than where we are currently.  Let’s be honest, every position has its challenges and strengths, it’s often about what we choose to focus on that makes all of the difference.  Our managers, bosses and most senior leaders will not be committed to our growth, development and continued promotion until we take responsibility for making things happen too.  It’s hard to “make things happen and lead from where you are” when you feel totally and utterly stuck.  Step one to get unstuck?  Shift your perspective.

Try this exercise to shift your perspective:

Each of the columns below offers you a perspective.  Think about your current role or business and pick the word on each line that best fits your current perspective.  Now, describe what that’s like.  Then, choose the opposite perspective and describe what that’s like.  Finally, list three things you could (will!) do from the more powerful perspective.


In my position I felt stuck because my boss was never going to leave.  When I am stuck I feel claustrophobic and like there is no way out, no options available to me.

In the opposite perspective, growing, I would feel like there was some exciting and fun work ahead.  When I think about growing, I think about new challenges and really feel excited by new possibilities.

If I’m growing I will:

  1. Make some recommendations for some special projects I’d like to lead
  2. Ask for feedback on a regular basis
  3. Mentor others so when I’m promoted, they’ll be ready to take on my current position.

You choose:

perspectives and choice

Make the Leap Action for Leaders: Do more than tell your high potentials that they’re in line for big things, ask them how they want to grow and intentionally find opportunities for them to expand their skills and influence so when that senior position opens up, they are well equipped  for success in their future position.

Make the Leap Action for Individuals: Don’t settle for stuck and dissatisfied – shift your perspective and speak up!  Make the choice to lead from where you are and create a great place to work for yourself and others.

Bottom line:  Make sure high potential employees are valued and engaged today and not just in line for tomorrow. (Click to Tweet)

How has a shift in perspective help you move from stuck to purposeful action?

Are you ready to make the leap?  For speaking, coaching or consulting, Let’s Connect!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Lolly Daskal August 30, 2013 at 7:03 am

What a great post.

What a fantastic illustration and exercise on HOW TO TAKE A LEAP!

THANKS so much for sharing.



Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 8:41 am

Really appreciate your feedback, Lolly! When we find a perspective that empowers us, it opens up a new world of choice.

Thanks, Lolly! Appreciate you!


Chris Jordan August 30, 2013 at 7:59 am


Nice use of perspective changing to help in life changing. I’m in a situation where I thought I was being a part of a team and yet the political environment truly was (and still is) at play and it came down to not the work and perspective, but what side of the political fence I was on. While I am still there trying to remain positive and focus on what reasons I go to work everyday, I am not engaged anymore. I’m looking to leave and go into the private sector and struggling a bit there too, and I wonder about my perspective and attitude affecting these choices. Thank you for the continued ‘just right timing’ posts!


Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 8:40 am


It sounds like you know what you need to do for your own happiness and sanity too. It’s interesting, but we can remain positive about where we are and let go at the same time. It frees us to know that other choices are available to us and that we are indeed empowered to make them. We all spend far too much time at work to be disengaged and disheartened.

Hope that you’ll play with your perspective a bit whether you stay or go since it will give you more control over your experience either way.

Look forward to hearing how it goes and what’s next for you, my friend!


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™ August 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Hi Chris,
As I read your comment, I thought of my situation 25 years ago. One thing I can assure you, the soul searching you are doing is the pathway to finding how you will create your “great life”. I think sometimes it’s about finding those trade-offs that don’t squelch our individual spirit. It’s different for each person.

Suggestion: Reflect on what your personal core values are. I believe when the life we choose and create allows us to live our core values, all the “big issues” become the small stuff we no longer sweat. When I did this exercise many years ago, I also found that I was able to stay very positive while in the not-so-great life. The light was shining me toward my life and it kept me joyful.

Best and warmest wishes for you in you journey,


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™ August 30, 2013 at 8:24 am

Hi Alli,
The most important word in your insightful post is …. choice! I’ve said and tweeted a few times: “I don’t know how to be bored and it’s the only thing I don’t want to learn.”

I wonder sometimes if the view you so well describe in your post here is something many entrepreneurs have. Does one feed the other? Even though we take the leap out of being an employee, we then have to find interest even in the mundane tasks that are in every business … in order to be successful.

Your post has many dimensions and will be food for thought for many.



Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 8:47 am

Thanks so much for your comments, Kate! I think you’ve really hit on something. People leave one job and go to another thinking that all the things that they disliked about the last one will be different – the same goes for entrepreneurs that make the leap from a corporate position. Instead of assuming that it’s all or nothing, love or hate, we can choose to reframe the way we think about those things that are causing us the most stress.

Perspective is truly powerful. Rarely do we stop to notice that what we see is not always reality… but very much colored by our glasses. We can create a fulfilling life and business but we need to be intentional about it – it’s not going to happen by accident.

Many thanks for sharing here!


Terri Klass August 30, 2013 at 9:17 am

You address an on-going challenge for many people and organizations, Alli- the inability for outstanding individuals to be promoted. With babyboomers hanging in there, fewer openings are occurring.

Yet, I love your approach to reframe our thinking and empower us to take action to complement our careers! We do have it within ourselves to grow and enrich our situations. We can become empowered leaders.

I also find that talking to as many other leaders around us can open up new doors and ideas to pursue. A new way to look at things has always jolted me out of a stuck state of mind.

Terrific post with great actions to make a leap!


Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Great points, Terri. There are exceptional performers in every generation and not enough formal leadership roles opening soon to accommodate everyone. In some ways, we need to create our own positions to find career satisfaction not simply sticking to our job description. When we do that, we are truly empowered leaders because we empowered ourselves to take control of our career and experience.

Also, I agree – it’s energizing to get out of our heads and talk to other leaders that can spark new perspectives, ways of thinking and help us to create new opportunities too.

Thanks for adding so much to this post, Terri!


Joy Guthrie August 30, 2013 at 9:55 am

Terrific post, Alli. One’s perspective in how they are looking at a situation is so very important. Another dimension to this is, of course, that your horizons could be expanded in a different company. Growth doesn’t have to happen solely inside of one company or even one industry. Taking a larger view can help someone from feeling stuck in a situation. Like you’ve said, the grass isn’t greener somewhere else; however, grass doesn’t just grow where you are either. Sometimes, the only option is to find that grass somewhere else. Thanks so much for sharing!


Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Joy – Absolutely!! We can shift our perspective and make the most of where we are but sometimes, it’s just time to go. Even then, we can do it from a powerful perspective (I’m passionate and need to go somewhere I can more fully live my passion!) or a limiting perspective (this stinks – anything has to be better).

As for me, I didn’t make it another decade with this company… at some point (just a few years later) with an open heart and with gratitude for the experience it was clear that my needs and vision for my career just couldn’t be met at level and I moved on.

Love your insights, Joy! Many thanks for sharing your thoughts here!


Dan Forbes August 30, 2013 at 5:23 pm

“As soon as Dan gets hit by a bus, the position is yours.” Ouch! Oh, wait…that’s a different Dan. Whew!

You’re right, that wasn’t very motivating. Without the opportunity to grow and advance, how can one aspire to more.

Love the visual too.


Alli Polin August 30, 2013 at 11:54 pm

ABSOLUTELY different Dan! (and I sincerely hope that you never get hit by a bus either!)

“The position is yours, but not now and I can’t tell you when” is not a way to retain top talent. The growth was there and it was a really fun energizing place to work but you’re right, at some point, advancement really matters… and I left.

Thanks for your comment and feedback on the visual too!


LaRae Quy August 30, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Wow! Love those “Make the Leap” action points! Keep them coming! Energy follows attention…what we chose to focus on makes all of the difference. This is a very powerful concept, Alli, and backed up by psychologists. I love your advice and it has deep levels of meaning for people in many situations.


Alli Polin August 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

So succinctly and powerfully written, LaRae: Energy follows attention. We always have a choice about HOW we pay attention too. Our negative or positive focus creates outcomes align with our energy.

Many thanks for your additional insights! Appreciate you!


Johann Gauthier August 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

Great post Alli!
It’s true that playing victims often gets us stuck and out of flow which is a great recipe for failure. I believe your post speaks to the importance of leading from the inside out… how can we be effective if we’re not confortable with ourselves? Choosing to express our best self leads to self-discovery and growth. How to practice and reinforce this on a daily basis? I choose to be grateful and my words to exude positivity. Unleashing my energy creates more energy and fosters trust… a key ingredient to excel in whatever we do.
Thanks for the inspiration!


Alli Polin September 1, 2013 at 7:31 am

Johann –

You are like the poster child for using your passion as a springboard for getting unstuck. You have broken out even over the short time that I’ve known you and have shown all of us what it’s like to CREATE your future instead of WAIT for your future to happen.

Appreciate you, Johann!


Alice Chan September 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Alli, what a great reminder that we can choose our perspective, rather than being the victim or receiver of an unchangeable set of circumstances. Whenever anyone starts complaining about not getting any feedback on their work from partners, I advice them to *seek* feedback. When they lament they don’t get to do interesting work, I encourage them to *seek out* interesting work. Your post is a great reminder that, by shifting our perspective, we shift our reality to one of our choice. Thanks, Alli!


Alli Polin September 3, 2013 at 8:59 am

Alice, as you can guess, I think that you’re advice is spot on. We can create our experience or just wait and see what happens (and whine and complain along the way). Victim is not the mark of a leader.

Many thanks, Alice!


Jon Mertz September 2, 2013 at 9:04 am


By not doing this, high potentials will do what they are built to do: Find the people and the opportunities that provide the field for them to grow in and make a big difference. High potentials, generally, don’t stick around to deal with roadblocks or hold-backs from others.

As leaders, we need to tap into their source of potential and problem-solving abilities. As a high potential, understanding the different between motion and movement is essential…. in other words, ensuring they are not moving to other jobs just for the title.

Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin September 3, 2013 at 8:56 am

Jon – Fantastic point on motion and movement. Years ago I knew someone that left the company we were both working for and jumped to a competitor – with a promotion. Within two years he left that one and went to another competitor with another promotion. In that time, I had learned incredible amounts about change management that I would have missed as a foundation in my career if I was focused on business development activities instead of building my knowledge base early on. I had real movement in my skills, knowledge and value…. he had motion. Thanks, Jon!


Mike Brown September 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm


This was a good reminder for me –

Instead of giving me an “atta’ girl, keep on doing what your doing” he continued to do the one thing that would retain me; made sure I continued growing.

We do not stay stationary; we either move forward or backward – and if we want to inspire our best people – we need to make sure that they have opportunities to move forward…




Alli Polin September 3, 2013 at 8:58 am

I agree, Mike. As individuals and organizations we’re always moving. I’ve seen orgs believe that they’ll be on top forever just because they’re on top today. The same goes for talent. When we stop growing is exactly when others pass us by.

Thanks so much for sharing your insight here!


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