It's the job of every manager to size up their team members and evaluate their potential. That means understanding not just their current talents, but also their likelihood of developing them for higher-impact roles. It's no small challenge, and it's one that even good managers sometimes fall short of. So it's helpful if you can show off your high potential in a way that's conspicuous without being obnoxious.
Whether they've laid it out in an official framework or otherwise, many companies use roughly the same criteria to determine which of their employees have the highest potential to move up their ranks. The three most common aren't all that surprising: likability, ability, and work ethic. Here's how to make sure you're authentically showing off all three.
Can you build and maintain positive relations with others, and generally show good organizational citizenship? Great! That will help you when it comes to likability, which is often a function of high emotional intelligence, not to mention the ability to hold in check the darker sides of your personality (arrogance, greed, selfishness, and passive aggressiveness).
And since your potential is mostly evaluated by your direct manager, who plays the single most important role in deciding your success in the company, it goes without saying that it's important the two of you get along. Unsurprisingly, many individuals are promoted mostly because of their ability to manage upward.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but your political skills can be as important in the workplace as genuine likability and emotional intelligence. So even if it takes a conscious effort, make yourself easy to work with and you'll be more likely to get recognized.
Ability concerns both the hard and soft skills connected with your actual job performance. Hard skills are a function of experience and expertise—how well you can ignore the irrelevant stuff and get down to solving a tactical problem, for instance. By comparison, that piece of someone's ability is easy to judge based on their past performance.
Soft skills, on the other hand, concern IQ, good judgment, and curiosity, which enable you to go beyond what you already know and acquire more job-relevant skills. Typically, employers assess your ability by comparing your maximum performance—the best you can do, based on what you've already done—with your peers, notably employees with similar experience or who work at the same level. If you can appear more capable than your colleagues on both hard and soft skills, you'll stand a better chance at your employer seeing your potential.
How driven, proactive, and persistent are you most of the time? Work ethic isn't a question of perfectionism, as many people imagine. Instead, it's a function of your personality, especially your ambition. However, everybody is more motivated when their jobs seem meaningful and interesting, and this comes by aligning employees’ roles with their own interests and values.
In that sense, potential roughly comes down to personality in the right place. If you love your job and you're usually engaged at work, you're probably in the right career and organization. This increases your chances of being picked out as a high-potential employee.
That said, these three criteria for potential won't always translate into exceptional performance at higher levels of organizations. Even when employees are rewarding to work with, highly capable, and work hard because they're intrinsically motivated to do so, it isn't always enough. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager, then from manager to leader, require a different set of skills and characteristics altogether.
So in addition to being liked by your boss, cultivate a reputation for being fair, consistent, and trustworthy. The higher up you move, your relevant skills and expertise will be less important than your ability to build and maintain a high-performing team, with the goal of achieving through others. Finally, your work ethic will progressively depend less on your own engagement with the technical aspects of your job and more on how well you can engage your team.
In other words, once your potential is recognized and you begin managing others, your potential to move even higher depends on manifesting those same three qualities in your team members.