Instead of accelerating the growth of rising management stars within the company, putting them into orbit too quickly often has the effect of slowing down their development, reducing their commitment and ultimately damaging their performance. Thanks to the knowledge of Jennifer and Gianpiero Petriglieri, professors of organizational behavior at the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD¹) who have worked with future leaders for over twenty years, and the expertise of Skillspotting, learn how to recognize and break the "Talent Curse".

The psychological mechanisms behind this curse

“The educational and professional trajectory of high potentials has often led them to develop capacities for over-adaptation, a “false-self”, according to Winnicott’s theory”, Maryse Dubouloy, Associate Professor in the Management Department at ESSEC², already pointed out in an article dating back to 2006. “The false-self is a defense mechanism that certain individuals erect to protect themselves against an environment that they feel threatens them if they deviate from what they think is expected of them. It is based on submission and dependence on an uncontrollable environment, beyond what is necessary for proper socialization”, she explains.

Accustomed since childhood to burying their own talents and deepest desires to please those around them, so-called ” high potentials ” are the ideal victims of two psychological mechanisms whose combination proves explosive:idealization andidentification. On the one hand, other employees idealize them and count on them to act as a bulwark against the uncertainty linked to the company’s future. On the other hand, high potentials themselves end up identifying with this image, starting to carry the weight of this uncertainty on their shoulders (which contributes to the development of feelings of omnipotence that are immediately counterbalanced by feelings of powerlessness). “One day I’m told that people like me have a mission to revolutionize the way business is done, and the next day I’m told that the very managers whose way of working I’m supposed to transform must like me,” confides Lars, a young star manager at a major manufacturing company. This paradox is one of the causes of the curse. The fact that they are extremely sensitive to the company’s culture and have a perfect grasp of its inner workings makes high-potential employees particularly vulnerable.

The Skillspotting vision: their perception of their talent changes and tips into a vicious circle: every opportunity becomes an obligation, every challenge a test.

Triangle model
(see our article on limiting beliefs)

As their talent gradually defines them, they sense that their future is also at stake, and begin to focus solely on what is likely to secure their place in the company. For those who initially stood out for their special qualities, ” future leaders ” began to rhyme with ” excellent followers “, ultimately sapping their energy and discouraging their ambition.


→ In our next episode, you’ll discover the three signs that should alert you

¹INSEAD: Institut européen d’administration des affaires, a private business school with three main campuses in Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and a member of Sorbonne Universités. His MBA was ranked No. 1 worldwide in 2016 by the Financial Times.

²ESSEC: Ecole supérieure des sciences économiques et commerciales, Cergy-Pontoise.


Sources :

– Jennifer Petriglieri / Gianpiero Petriglieri, The Talent Curse, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2017

– Savannah Horton, The Talent Curse: when your “future leader” label gets in the way of good work, Bowdoin Dayly Sun, April 20, 2017: http: //

– Maryse Dubouloy, Les ” hauts potentiels ” et le ” faux-self “, in Le Journal des psychologues 2006/3 (n°236), p.22-26 :