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6 ways to show your boss you’re a high-potential employee

Show your potential by making these simple, strategic moves.

6 ways to show your boss you’re a high-potential employee
[Photo: scyther5/iStock]

If you want to get ahead in the workplace, it helps to be seen as a “high-potential employee,” or HIPO. As reported previously in Fast Company, Gartner’s research finds that HIPOs exert 21% more effort than their non-HIPO peers and have a 75% chance of succeeding at roles that are critical to business performance and the future leadership pipeline. These are the folks who get plum assignments and are selected for training, mentoring, and other advancement programs, if they’re available.

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So, if your goal is to advance your career, it’s a good idea to ensure that your boss and the rest of the management team think of you as a HIPO. If you’re not sure that you’re on their radar as such, here are some ways to get there:

Get the right intel

Too often, employees think they know what their bosses and company leadership want, but those assumptions can lead you down the wrong path, says executive coach Shoshanna Hecht. Being clear in your communication with your boss and, if possible, the company’s leadership team about your goals and asking for advice about how to get there is usually one of the quickest ways to get noticed.

Observe

Many clues about what your supervisor and company value are available if you know where to look. Notice the work styles of the leaders around you, says Jay Conger, professor of leadership studies at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, and author of The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader.

He points to Bob Iger, former CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Iger is known for arriving early at every meeting. Those who arrive on time may be perceived as late, Conger says. Get to know those types of habits. “If you follow them, you’re a good citizen. If you break one or two of them, you’re now a problem for your boss,” he says.

In addition, notice the ways you can make your boss’s life easier, he says. If you can be a solution by helping to solve problems or avoid tasks or situations they don’t like, that’s an opportunity to build goodwill and show leadership that you understand the needs of the people around you.

Meet regularly

In our time-crunched world, meetings deemed “unnecessary” are often the first to be scuttled. But Hecht encourages her clients to set up regular check-ins with supervisors, even—or, perhaps, especially—when things are going well. If you’re only meeting when there’s a problem, you may be inadvertently reinforcing negative messages about your work performance. Regular check-ins “make sure that you have a chance in the room and space to talk about the good stuff, what’s happening, the achievements, the wins,” she says. And if you do come to the meeting with a problem, be sure to have some ideas about solutions. That shows you’ve thought through the issue and have ideas to contribute to the team, she adds.

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Act like a leader

No matter where you fall in the corporate hierarchy, you can always find ways to be a leader, says Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of the military transition division for Lucas Group. You don’t want to be pushy or overstep your role, but when you approach leadership as helping others get better, it’s usually well-received, he says. How can you contribute? How can you mentor others? How can you help the team achieve its goals?

“A lot of people want to be leaders because they want control, and they want to be able to direct things that are most advantageous to them,” he says. But when you approach your role as looking out for everyone around you too, you earn trust and stand out, he says. “Frankly, people either feel that way or they don’t feel that way. And the key for corporate leaders is to identify people that have the heart of a leader.” By mentoring others and helping them develop, you also help build a pipeline of talent who can ease the transition when you get your next promotion.

Promote your work—and find others to do so too

Finding ways to toot your own horn without being obnoxious can be challenging. But you can’t assume that everyone around you is tuned in to what you’re doing, Zawikowski says. No one wants to be as overbearing as Dwight from The Office, but you can still find ways to point out your successes. And build relationships so that others do so too, he says.

For example, at a job earlier in his career, he had gone out of his way to make his name known and learn a lot about others’ jobs and how to make them easier. He built good relationships with peers and management. So, when a big promotion came up, he easily landed it. “The CEO even kind of joked about it. He said, ‘You know, you’re the first person to ever be elected general manager,'” Zawikowski says.

Take matters into your own hands

If you find that your skills really are lacking or you need additional help, take the steps necessary—internally or externally—to build them, Hecht says. It’s best if you have concrete feedback to act on. But if you feel like you need management skills, communication improvement, or other necessary leadership skills, there are a number of places to build them. Your organization may have training, or you could turn to resources such as Coursera or your local community college for course options. “It’s never a bad idea to upskill,” she says.

By paying attention to what’s around you, building relationships and skills, and taking action based on the values of your organization, you can begin to stand out from the pack.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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