The strategic development of high potential leaders

Robert M. Fulmer (Academic director at Duke Corporate Education, a specialist in strategic leadership development and co‐author of The Leadership Advantage (
Stephen A. Stumpf (The Fred J. Springer Professor in Business Leadership at Villanova School of Business (
Jared Bleak (Executive director at Duke Corporate Education (

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Publication date: 8 May 2009



In the current stressful recessionary period, the need for highly effective managers who can skillfully direct bet‐the‐company strategic initiatives such as disruptive innovation, restructuring, strategic renewal and mergers greatly increases. It more important than ever to study the succession planning and leadership training of best‐practice firms to learn better ways to develop high potential leaders. This paper aims to investigate this issue.


The paper offers a summary of some of these best practices and provides case examples of successful applications.


The paper finds that employees with high leadership potential need to be systematically identified and tracked by line managers as part of an overall strategic succession planning process. Success in developing the next generation of leaders requires creating a talent management system in which selection, development, performance management, succession and career management are aligned, reviewed and supported by senior management.

Practical implications

Some of the more cost‐ and resource‐efficient practices for implementing a successful early‐stage high‐potential program include: a special learning and development track for the high potentials; rotation of managers across disciplines‐divisions‐geographies; technology‐based learning; action learning; and coaching/mentoring (internal and external) programs.


To ensure that the talent pool supports the company's overall strategy, the abilities of the high potential individuals should be shaped to correspond with the emerging leadership needs of the next decade. The “best firms for leaders” are typically twice as likely to use a variety of developmental techniques for their “best and brightest.”



Fulmer, R., Stumpf, S. and Bleak, J. (2009), "The strategic development of high potential leaders", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 17-22.

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