Public High Potentials

How talented constitutional lawyers and experienced avalanche fence technicians learn leadership together

Client inquiry

Employees of several organizations in the public sector, who have already been appointed to assistant department head or are about to be promoted, shall be given the opportunity to prepare themselves for the role of assistant department head by participating in a seminar. The organizations choose and register their own participants. There is a substantial challenge: the group of participants is extremely heterogeneous. There are constitutional attorneys, avalanche fence technicians, teachers and police officers, ranging from 28 to 54 years of age.


The workshop is publicly announced for open bidding. We are one of twelve vendors. In our written proposal, we propose a seminar with three modules, including an initial workshop and two follow-ups. We orally present this suggestion and illustrate how we handle heterogeneous groups. The most important question during this consultation is: "How can we ensure that employees are nominated who not only have potential, but who also have a good shot at a leadership position?“ Together, we developed the idea to hold a workshop with the human resources development professionals in all areas of the organization. Our presentation is convincing, and we are entrusted with taking on this program.

Program objectives

Creating one’s role in a proactive manner
Using goals to give employees direction
Effectively leading conversations
Calmly dealing with emotions
Giving and receiving helpful feedback
Motivating people with optimism
Giving praise and expressing criticism in a fair way
Standing by teams during their development
Calmly and confidently dealing with conflict
Fostering innovation within the team
Using emotions for team motivation
Running project group with confidence and tact
Change management

Program design

For the very beginning, we plan a seminar for human resources development professionals, in which no specific content is taught. Rather, the seminar gives the participants the opportunity to actively discuss the methodology they used to select the High Potential participants. The seminar consisted of an initial workshop, three modules, and two follow-ups. In addition, each participant can name a mentor, who will help and support the participant’s further development. The mentors attend a one-day workshop on the topic of coaching techniques.


Subgroups quickly form in the first program. One group was repeatedly asking for instructions, theories, and facts. The second group wanted to reflect more on their own leadership behavior.  Other participants observed these developments with eager expectation, as if it were a play in a theater. This discussion about how one learns to lead remained gripping all the way to the last module. In the beginning, the participants perceive the enormous differences as a burden. Finding a common language is difficult for them. Little by little, it becomes clear that a big learning potential lies precisely in those differences. All participants realize that communication and leadership are strongly context-dependent, and that there are no general leadership rules for all areas.


After each module as well as after the conclusion of the program, all participants were asked, using questionnaires, about the effectiveness of the joint learning experience. The in-session feedback was extremely important for the direction and future development of the program. Guided by the mentors‘ assessment, we decide to allow even more time between the initial workshop and the mentors’ workshop before holding the participants’ workshop. For the second program, during the initial workshop and the first module, we deliberately allow even more time for differences to become apparent.