By Brian Mitchell, CEO & Managing Partner

My youngest daughter is a gifted athlete. My other two daughters are not, I am not, but Emme is truly talented in many sports of which soccer is her favorite. She was immediately the best player on her first soccer team and inherently enjoyed a lot of on-field success. She “moved up” a few years ago, earning a spot in an elite travel club where dozens of kids who try out don’t make it. There are currently three teams within her club age group, essentially an A, B, and C team. She’s on the A team….for now. She’s one of the smaller kids and not the fastest so she really needs to work hard to stand out. All of these kids are competent and a few of them are brilliant, certain college D-1 players in the future. The reality is that all of these kids were by far the best player on their first teams so the internal competition is much, much tougher at this level. Her God-given ability plus her discipline to improve will carry her as far she can go, but fortunately for her it will all be based on merit. If she can become excellent in practice it will translate into execution in games and she’ll continue to “move up”. As a parent, I’m a little concerned it’s all come a little too easy for her until now and this weeded out level of competition presents a challenge she’s really not experienced.

I talk with a lot of would-be rising professionals who feel they “deserve” a promotion. They believe they are being held back as a VP and “should” be a C-level based on what they’ve already achieved. Some believe that running a divisional P&L at a big company qualifies them to be CEO of a small company. Perhaps they’re right, but perhaps others don’t feel they’re quite as marketable or perhaps their accomplishments simply are not enough to win that next level role. As an executive recruiter for the past nine years, I have a unique purview into what discerning CEO’s and boards require in their senior leaders and most strategic hires. Senior professionals seeking to climb the next corporate rung must embrace that the competition is fierce. That VP/CXO/CEO role you’ve “earned” is coveted by many other highly accomplished veterans just like you believe yourself to be. If you’re going to advance your career and win a promotion or win a bigger job elsewhere, you  must seek to understand where you can improve your personal marketability. My kid needs to perform well at practice and games for her coach, the sole decider, to decide if she starts, sits, and stays on the team. Your professional setting is not nearly as clear: you must prove superior results and that you should be credited with those results; you have internal politics and foxhole alliances; your company reputation might be tied to yours; you might have personal distractions out of the office. The desired roles you want are infrequently exposed so you need to delicately let it be known you’re exceptional (without arrogance) so you get those internal or external calls (btw, those calls only get you to the table, not to a win). Guess what? IT’S HARD TO KEEP CLIMBING! It takes previous experience and success, opportunity exposure, likability, timing, some luck, and other variables. Is it worth it? That is truly your call.

I’m saving money for my daughter to go to college, I’m under no illusions she’ll “earn” an athletic scholarship. And I’m beyond certain none will be “given”. It will take incredible drive, a grinding commitment to stay ahead of her competition over the next few years. Other kids want her spot and some might simply be better and/or work harder to take it away from her. That is a fair system. Neither she nor anyone else permanently deserves anything at all. She needs to start with desire, fuel it with practice and preparation, and perform with excellence in action. Then she needs to do it again the next day, but just an edge better than the day before.

What is the point? As you move up, you need to keep earning your spot on the roster. When you do so, you put yourself in the best position for the next step. All of us need to accept our competitive reality, continually get better, and beat out others in all aspects as we pursue the upward climb. It’s up to you. “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” – Vince Lombardi