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The Devil’s Triangle of the High Potential

The Devil’s Triangle, also known as the Bermuda Triangle, is a place in the western North Atlantic Ocean that is rich in folklore. The stories are of airplanes and ships mysteriously disappearing. Some tell of unknown enigmatic forces that suck objects, and people into another dimension. Others point to scientific explanations that explain the disappearances. The sea stories, although intriguing, are not true, sea stories rarely are. There is, however, a Devil’s Triangle that does exist for the upwardly mobile, mid-level management employee—The HiPo Triangle!

The HiPo Triangle, the less dramatic, but more descriptive name being the High Potential Triangle is a scary place for those who dare to enter it. A place, if navigated well, that can bring the high potential employee to the pinnacle of their chosen profession.

The three points of this triangle are not, of course, Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico, rather Leadership, Management and Followership. Unlike the superstitious seafarer that may plot a course to circumvent this triangle, the high potential employee is forced to enter. The high potential employee is the employee who has been recognized as having talent and is now elevated to the ranks of the first line supervisor and, in most cases; this is their first supervisory role.

The triangle is vexing waters. It has claimed many careers on its jagged rocks and hidden shoals. Be happy! You would not be here if someone did not think you were capable of assuming greater responsibility in the organization. Having successfully sailed these waters, I provide the following reef points (advice for the less nautical reader) to those in the triangle and those about to enter. Learn the art of followership, the science of management and most difficult of all, the skill of leadership.  This article will focus on the most overlooked point of the triangle—followership. The art of followership requires three basic skills: loyalty, communication and implementation.


Loyalty is being committed to your organization, your supervisor and the people who are responsible to you for completing the task—your front line everyday, get-it-done employees.

Loyalty is not Miss Justice holding her apothecary scale while wearing a blind fold. That may work in the legal system but not in business, any business. Loyalty has eyes that see and scales that tip.

Being loyal to your organization is doing more than is expected. It is performing your job as though you invented it. Being loyal to your supervisor is not being a sycophant, nor speaking ill of your boss to others. Agreeing with your boss on every issue or liking your boss is not a requirement, respect for their position and responsibility is. Being loyal to your team of employees is ensuring they are resourced, trained and capable of doing their job. It is praising them in public and chastising in private. Taking the time to know who your team members are, on a personal level, and having empathy for what is going on in their lives carries tremendous value. No one will remember what you said, few will remember what you did; everyone will remember how you made them feel. When your team members feel good about working for you, they will carry you through the darkest moments in the high potential triangle.


To the point, if you cannot communicate you cannot control. If you cannot control you cannot effectively lead. You will enter the HiPo Triangle and never seen again.

The essence of communication: what do you know, who did you tell, what are you doing about it; sounds simple in theory, yet reality points to this being one of the most difficult things for an up and coming leader to master.

Information has to move. Like the circulation of ocean currents affect the weather, the circulation of information affects an organization. Some are fearful of passing information that is bad news. We all know the cliché about bad news and wine. Some feel there is little need to pass along information that is good news. Some feel the only time to pass information is at the weekly or monthly meeting.

The quickest way to stand out as a beacon of light in the HiPo Triangle is being a master communicator. It is passing bad news along with what actions are being taken to mitigate the situation and recommendations, note that is plural, for permanent solutions. Good news is passed as quickly as practicable and passed with liberal use of the pronoun, we. We were able to complete task XYZ early and saved the organization $XYZ, 000 in the process. Holding information for some standard meeting time can cause the organization or your team to miss an opportunity that may not repeat itself.

Effective communication moves in every direction of the organizational compass. What you know is passed up the organization’s hierarchy, down to your team and across to your peers.


Implementation is the salient measure of a High Potential’s worth to the organization. It is producing desired results.

Accomplishing the task at hand very often is a direct function of establishing loyalty, and effectively communicating what needs to done and why to the team. Implementing a task requires a process. I offer this one—SAC-IS—Start planning, Analysis, Complete your plan, Issue your tasks to the team, and Supervise.

  • Start planning—ensure the required results are clearly understood
    • Identify subtasks required to produce the end results
    • Analysis—resources required to accomplish the results
      • Trained and capable personnel
      • Any additional training required
      • Material
      • Budget
      • Complete the plan—all subtasks are identified
        • Resources are matched to each subtask (this includes the right person to the right task)
        • Subtasks are prioritized
        • Establish how the team will communicate both formally and informally
        • Issue the tasks to the team—ensure the result is clearly stated and understood
          • Ensure the subtasks are clearly stated and tied to the result
          • Supervise—this is the most important part of the process
            • Once a task is given the High Potential does not walk away—task past is not a task completed
            • Monitor resources
            • Look for opportunities to improve the process
            • Constantly available to the team

The art of followership is one of the most overlooked yet important aspects of becoming an exceptional leader. It is one of the three points of the High Potential Triangle that require a keen eye to steer clear of rocks and shoals.