Finding and Lifting Rising Stars

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Christopher G. Fox

Mid- to large-size organizations often struggle to cultivate a pipeline of next-generation thought leaders. Many companies take talent management seriously and seek ways to promote high-potential people from within. When it comes to thought leadership, however, they typically don’t engage in a similar process of succession planning.

As with executive and managerial succession planning, thought leadership requires a disciplined process of identifying and developing rising talent. As a result, three things can happen:

  • High-potential thought leaders may be more likely to leave and take more engaging roles at other companies (often at competitor companies)
  • When more senior and visible thought leaders leave, whether competitive hiring or retirement, their departure can leave a big gap
  • Companies can miss out on the opportunity to fold new insights and fresh thinking into their aggregate intellectual property, ultimately at the cost of ongoing competitiveness

To avoid these three risks of losing thought leadership traction, companies can follow a simple three-step approach.

    1. Map out existing thought leaders. Remember, thought leaders can include both internal and external influencers. Key questions include:
      • Who are they, and what topics do they cover?
      • How visible and influential are they?
      • Where do they have impact?
      • What would happen if they leave (in terms of lost influence and traction)?
    1. Identify high-potential rising thought leaders. Typical profile attributes include:
      • Senior roles within product management or operational functions
      • Truly stellar communication skills
      • Track record of influencing others
      • Seen as a go-to trusted resource
      • An “it factor” or “star power”
    1. Create structured development plans. Top-line steps include:
      • Speaking directly with potential thought leaders to gauge their interest
      • Training (such as public speaking, writing, media training, personal branding)
      • Ongoing mentorship and feedback (by direct managers, top company leaders, and communication coaches)
      • Structured goal setting that includes increasingly high-visibility conferences, events, and publication opportunities

This approach allows companies to make the best use of their thought leadership talent while avoiding the risks of losing traction as a recognized innovator. They also return the favor, so to speak, by cultivating new skills in their strongest thinkers and contributors. When companies make disciplined efforts to find and lift rising stars, everybody benefits.

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