Leadership training programs often target learners based on their leadership level. This focus enables customization, so leaders learn what they need to know in order to be successful at their current level and/or to advance to the next level. As a concept, leadership development levels also help support effective succession planning, as together, they form a pipeline from high potential individual contributors to the C-suite.

High-Potential Employees

“High-potential,” or HiPo, employees are those identified as potential high performers who may be good candidates for management. The best way to identify and develop these individuals is debated among experts, and experts frequently cite new manager training (or lack thereof) as insufficient. However, effective identification and training of these individuals is crucial for a robust leadership pipeline and a high-performing organization.

Here are some characteristics that may distinguish HiPo employees:

  • Ability: Is the employee successful in performing his or her job?
  • Emotional intelligence: Is the employee able to manage him- or herself as well as relationships with others?
  • Motivation: Does the employee have an intrinsic drive to grow and to be successful? Does he or she even want to be a manager?
  • Engagement: Is the employee engaged with and committed to the organization?

Once the organization identifies HiPo employees, it should provide them with training designed to increase their managerial skills and prepare them for the next level. Training should include topics such as time management, delegation, giving and receiving feedback, emotional intelligence, coaching, communication, conflict management and resolution, and decision-making.

Entry-Level Managers

The new manager role is one of the most challenging – if not the most challenging – that leaders face, and they need the support of L&D as well as their own managers, mentors and coaches. Entry-level managers (also known as first-line managers) are often overlooked in leadership development efforts, but it is critical that they receive training to ensure their success. Keep a look out for warning signs like problems with relationships, being resistant to change, failure to meet goals and difficulty switching roles from being a star contributor to an effective manager. Integrate coaching into the culture of your organization so new leaders have someone they can reach out to for support and answers to their questions.

Middle Management

“Middle management” is the level between first-time managers and executives; job titles in this level can include “senior manager,” “director” and “vice president.” Due to the inherent power dynamics (they must manage relationships with executives as well as lower-level managers, receive directives from above and then carry them out with those below), this role can be challenging. Effective leadership training at this level focuses on the ability to manage up as well as down and the ability to have difficult conversations. Mentoring can also help, as executives who have been middle managers can help mentees learn the ropes.


Senior vice presidents and the C-suite (CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CLOs, etc.) are at the helm of the organization, but they still need development. Executive coaching is a popular and effective tool at this level; having an expert coach to talk to about their leadership and communication styles, their values, and the day-to-day challenges they encounter can boost executives’ leadership performance. It’s also important for them to use tools like 360-degree assessment tools to evaluate themselves and learn how they’re seen by the people who work with and for them. Finally, topics like strategic planning, risk management, technology, emotional intelligence, and change management remain key at this level, and ongoing development opportunities are important.

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