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Identification of high-potential lawyers may create problems

In his book, Theodore Levitt, Thinking about Management (Free Press 1991) at 18, Levitt writes that “really outstanding managers tend to emerge gradually from the pack, and occasionally suddenly in special circumstances, rather than being specifically selected or trained for command.” His observation contradicts the premise underlying the focus on so-called “high potentials”: spot future leaders early and nurture them specially (See my post of Nov. 25, 2006 about InBev and its program.).

Perhaps, as Levitt thinks, it is not possible to identify future leaders because they must marinate in experience. Meanwhile, if you do try to recognize and accelerate the development of a few lawyers, you might create the halo effect around them (See my post of April 13, 2007 about this tendency.). You’ll certainly trigger cognitive dissonance if anyone questions the anointment (See my post of April 5, 2007 on this mechanism.). Worse, you will disenchant those not patted on the back and might give the chosen few swollen heads. High potential programs are anti-egalitarian, which offends some people’s principles.

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