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Keeping momentum when you're on the fast track

Make rising to the top the marathon of your career.

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It's lovely to be identified as a high-potential or fast-track individual in your organization, because it suggests you will be given an opportunity to rise toward the top. But if you slip, beware. "It has been my experience that when it comes to high-potential identification, second chances are rare," Dan McCarthy, director of executive development programs at University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business and Economics, writes on his Great Leadership blog. He offers five ways to continue to be seen as high-potential employee after being anointed:

Maintain your high performance

The first step is to maintain a high level of performance. That isn't as easy as it sounds, Mr. McCarthy says, because organizations inadvertently sabotage their high potentials as more senior officials view the newcomers as threats, or the fast trackers are put through a series of short job rotations where they can't properly contribute.

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No matter what situation you are thrown into, you must display what he calls a high degree of "learning agility," acing each assignment. Otherwise you become just another rising star who is viewed as a big disappointment if you fail a challenging assignment. "While you don't want to get risk-adverse and turn down challenging opportunities, it's a good idea to try to choose wisely and try to negotiate conditions that will improve your chances of success," he advises.

Take advantage of development support

As the organization invests in your future, you will likely be offered mentors, executive coaches, executive development programs, special projects or even international assignments. Don't turn them down. Again, this may seem obvious, but Mr. McCarthy says many fast-trackers view such opportunities as distractions and resist the moves. Instead, view them as attempts to push you ahead.

Don't become too full of yourself

If you become arrogant, acting like a prince or princess, you will be widely viewed as someone who doesn't have what it takes to be a leader.

Leaders are expected to be humble and trustworthy, inspiring and uplifting to those around them. If people are running away from your version of leadership, you're in trouble.

Make sure you get feedback

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No news is not good news when you're on the leadership track. Keep an open line of communication with your managers, mentors, subordinates and peers.

"Getting isolated and cut off from feedback often happens during development assignments, lateral moves, and ex-pat assignments, so if you're in one of these situations, it's even more important to maintain close contact with your support network," he warns.

Market yourself

While you don't want to become a self-absorbed boaster, you must make sure people are aware of what you have accomplished for the organization, so that when talent is being assessed you are accurately evaluated.

"Accomplishments are like trees falling in a forest – if no one is around to hear them, they may as well not be real," Mr. McCarthy notes.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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