I interview hundreds of people each year, and one of the most common questions I get is, “how did you get to where you are?”  My response is always the same.  It comes down to three very simple (not easy) things: record of achievement, the desire to do more, and the aptitude to do more.  Let’s examine each one a bit closer.

Record of Achievement – As the great John Wooden said, the team with the best players almost always wins.  Truth – the best leaders relentlessly focus on attracting the absolute best players.  Past performance is the most reliable indication of future performance, so your record of achievement is everything in business.  If you work in an organization that promotes those without a record of achievement, consider going to work for an organization that takes this seriously.  Provided you are a winner, you deserve to be on a winning team.

Tip – Your record of achievement is the most valuable asset you own, and it can never be taken from you.  Focus on building a real record in every position you occupy, as this gives you confidence and credibility when you do get that next promotion.  Be patient and resist the urge to seek promotions too quickly, as your record and your experience are often the only things you can take with you into your next job.

Desire – Quite a large number of highly successful professionals are content with the position they hold, and they are uninterested and/or unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to assume the next level of leadership.  And let me be clear – sacrifice is always necessary.  Always.  Before raising your hand for that next promotion, be very honest with yourself about why you want it.  Is it just for money?  If so, don’t do it.  Only take the next step if you really want it, as it will require long-term sacrifice…long after you’ve stopped noticing that extra money in your paycheck.

Tip – The best way to communicate true desire to take on a promotion in the future is to demonstrate leadership and seek out opportunities to contribute more in your current position.  Always demonstrate a positive, constructive attitude, and be a substantive contributor at every opportunity.  Raise your hand to solve a problem or lead an initiative now!  If you wait to show desire by raising your hand for the promotion, you’re way too late.

Aptitude – Honestly assessing your own aptitude can be tough, as we are rarely prepared to openly admit to ourselves that we need more experience…or worse yet, that we simply don’t have the “goods” to take on a certain role.  If a hiring manager tells you that you are not ready for a specific job or promotion, don’t take that as a negative. Take it as an opportunity to learn and grow as fast as possible.  I’ve been “passed over” for multiple positions, only to find myself in even more senior positions before I knew it.  The grace with which you handle not getting a promotion is nearly as important as how you handle actually getting it, as it is a clear sign of your maturity.

Tip – Attitude, leadership, and maturity are three of the most important aptitude criteria you will be evaluated on when seeking a promotion.  Here’s the secret – you’re being evaluated on these every single day, so you cannot afford to wait until you are seeking a promotion to demonstrate them. Combined with a real record of achievement and the desire to do more, demonstrating these attributes will land you in a bigger job before you know it.

Landing promotions is hard and often very competitive.  Maximize your odds (and your overall professional success) by following the three step plan – build a winning record in every job, demonstrate your desire to do more through your actions, and demonstrate your aptitude to do more through your behaviors.

Good luck!  Write to me with good news about your promotions!

Lead. Courageously.

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  • Chloë Brennan

    You’re very inspirational, Doug! It’s an honor to work for you and McGraw-Hill as a whole! 

    •  Thanks, Chloe! We’re happy you are here!


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