Tactical Success. Strategic Failure.

High Potential Failure

High-potential Failure?

Companies investing in developing “high-potential” employees also need to invest in helping top performers not drown in the wake of their own success.

From sales to finance to technology to marketing, the technical and tactical strengths that get an individual recognized and promoted are not the skills that will make the person successful as a senior leader. New executives often don’t realize that the independence that got them to a senior role can derail them once they arrive. Fast-tracking high-potential employees is another version of the scenario that has played in sales organizations for decades–a top performing sales person is promoted to sales manager where the individual stumbles, struggles, and eventually fails.

A successful marketing executive was hired by a world-renowned non-profit and she quickly set out to accomplish the aggressive agenda placed before her. She achieved what she was hired to do, but she did it without building a network of relationships in the organization. As soon as she completed the initiative, the executive’s employment was terminated. Tactical strength resulted in strategic failure.

Dartmouth management professor Sydney Finkelstein has conducted extensive research into corporate mistakes and failures. His insights are captured in his book titled, Why Smart Executives Fail. Finkelstein says that one of the most prevalent warning signs of executive failure is success and the arrogance that often accompanies it.

Outstanding results in one role won’t equate to great performance in a senior leadership position unless the individual is equipped with the interpersonal skills needed to interface with, lead, and relate to diverse groups of people. Finkelstein notes, “It is important to remember that corporate mistakes are about people.”