Coaching the Young Client

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Making It Happen II: Coaching the High Potentials in Organizations

Another area where we are seeing increased investment in coaching is for early career high potentials.  Organizations recognize the importance of developing and retaining critical talent not only at the mid and senior leader levels but also for new professional entrants that are the future of the organization.  While we aren’t seeing a significant investment in the more traditional individual coaching engagements, we are seeing significant investment in programmatic development offerings that include coaching components (much like the graduate school design). The man or woman showing great promise often will be given the opportunity to participate in leadership or managerial development programs – this is a frequent component of “fast-track” programs.

Focus on Unique Strengths

Something more, however, is operating with the high potential. This coaching often focuses in particular on the high potential’s strengths and on the leveraging of these strengths for the benefit of the organization. The high potential typically possesses some distinctive abilities that are not easily learned by or “trained into” the average manager or formal leader. The high potential, metaphorically, is a race horse who should never be strapped to a plow. We have discovered that there are additional strategies that have been or should be engaged when addressing the distinctive challenges of working with young, high potential employees: flexibility, reflection, alignment, experimentation and career planning. We have benefited in this strategic analysis from perspectives offered by a group of experienced professional coaches in Istanbul Turkey with whom one of us [WB] worked in collaboration with Dorothy Siminovitch. (Bergquist and Siminovitch, 2010)


While organizational coaches must always be flexible in their work with colleagues, the challenge of flexibility is particularly important when working with high potential clients. High potential coaching clients are inclined to assume an internal locus of control. They tend to “take charge,” even when interacting with their coach. This means that the coach must move with the client. These clients set the agenda and shift from session to session with respect to the issues they want to address and the way in which they want to work with their coach. This also means that a coach must often encourage their clients to find their own solution to the issue being addressed. While all coaching should focus on client-generated solutions, this orientation is particularly important when working with the high potential client.  The coach must therefore be flexible and responsive with regard not only to a client’s definition of coaching issues, but also solutions being generated by the client in response to these coaching issues.

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