As you come across Career Gates – those times when you need to show you’ve “got what it takes” in order to keep advancing – what’s the “right mix” of capabilities you need to “Learn, Do and Show” to others?

All of us achievers want to know the answer to that question. And it’s important to keep asking it because the answer changes over the course of your career.

However, the right answer is hard to come by.

Sometimes, people fob you off with “just keep doing what you’re doing” (which is the worst career advice of all) because they’re too busy focusing on their own careers, or don’t want to risk offending you with the truth. Well-meaning people can give conflicting advice. And in the end, it also needs to be tailored to your own unique set of attributes, assets and abilities.

To make matters more complicated, it’s not something we can easily see for ourselves because we’re so close to the situation.

Three dimensions to help you find your answer

Well, over the years through my own 24-year career and now through helping my coaching clients navigate their leadership and career challenges, I’ve come to see that there are three main categories of capabilities you need to “Learn, Do and Show” you’ve mastered for the role and level you’re aspiring to:

Achiever Capabilities - Working with People, Working on the Business, Working on Your Self

  • Working with People – the way you interact with others matters since none of us succeeds on our own
  • Working on the Business – the ability to deliver results matters whether you’re in a business, non-profit, higher education or government setting
  • Working on Your Self – your most important asset is you, and the investments you make in this category is completely portable and therefore never wasted

And across those categories, I find there are 9 capabilities that can make the biggest difference.

Before we move on to the specifics of the 9 Capabilities, it’s important to note that these three dimensions – People, Business and Self – are all equally important, and you’ll want to make sure you’re building your career muscles in all three.

While one of the categories will come more naturally to you than others, don’t fall into the trap of becoming lopsided in your approach.

Being over-reliant on just one or two aspects has stopped many achievers from advancing beyond a certain point in their careers. For example:

  • Don was a commercial animal. He delivered results like no one else. Yet, he was a terror to work for and chewed through junior associates. He aspired to run bigger parts of the business, but ultimately topped out because he was seen as a lone wolf producer who couldn’t lead a team.
  • Jean was all about her team and taking care of her people. But management worried that she was so nurturing that she wouldn’t make the tough decisions or have the commercial drive to deliver on the numbers for a larger unit. Would her concern for people completely overshadow the ability to deliver results through those people? Was she even focused on results?
  • Bob had great business acumen and showed he could lead a high performing team. However, as his business unit became more and more successful, his previous confidence now came across as arrogance. This lack of self-awareness was what ultimately brought his career to a plateau.

So, don’t let that be you!

9 Achiever Capabilities That Will Serve You at Any Career Stage

Working on these 9 Achiever Capabilities will stand you in good stead no matter what your role, industry or career stage. And working on them will put you in a much better position to pass through your Career Gates whether or not you’re aware they’re there.

Think of these Achiever Capabilities as muscles that you need to continually use and keep in shape. These aren’t like school papers that you turn in and never look at again – they’re living, breathing capabilities that you need to keep fresh.

In fact, these are “evergreen” capabilities you’ll want to return to over and over again to develop in an increasingly advanced and nuanced way because they will help you keep progressing to higher levels of excellence as you advance in your career.

And the more you work on them, the better you’ll become, the more natural they will be, and you’ll be on your way to creating a virtuous cycle that can lift your career onward and upward.

Working with People:

  1. Stakeholder Management – building relationships with key people who have a say in your business in order to get the backing you need without being “political”
  2. Team Leadership – becoming a great leader who is a talent magnet and builds a strong bench of leaders around you so that you can achieve greater results and make a positive difference in the organization and in the lives of your team
  3. Communication & Influence – being clear, engaging and effective in getting your point across, and having the versatility to influence in different situations and in different ways so that you can get things done when you lack or want to preserve authority

Working on the Business:

  1. Vision and Strategy – developing a bigger vision for what your business could be beyond what it is now, and having a strategy for owning that “space” so that you can produce better results and earn a seat at the table with senior management
  2. Decision-Making – preserving your decision-making capacity so you can crisply make the ones that really count, learning to frame the key decisions to get to the best outcomes so that you can be seen as a decisive leader with good judgment who is worthy of advancement
  3. Creating New Business – being a “rainmaker” who delivers commercial results and grows the pie — regardless of where you sit in the organization — so that you can contribute to driving the business forward and earn greater opportunities for advancement and recognition for you and your team

Working on Your Self:

  1. Self-Awareness – being attuned to how you come across and able to self-manage in order to achieve the results you want
  2. Presence and Profile – managing your brand, reputation and visibility so that you increase the likelihood of getting opportunities to put your best abilities to work in arenas where you can make a difference, advancing your business and your career, and providing greater opportunities for your team
  3. Building Your Network – creating a group of people where there is mutual trust, respect and support, including mentors, sponsors, and raving fans, so that you can be in a position to be your best self and make the difference you were meant to make in the world

Focus On The 1-2 That Matter Most Right Now

Now, it’s hard to work on 9 things at the same time and, frankly, I don’t recommend it. Instead, it’s about identifying the one or two that will make the biggest difference to your progress if you were to focus on them right now.

You may know intuitively what they are, or perhaps you’ve been told in your latest performance review. If you don’t, then asking a few people you trust will help reveal them.

So, take a look at these capabilities and identify which ones are your strongest, your most challenging, and the single most important one for you to work on right now to advance your career.

And by the way, the one to work on right now is the one that gives you the biggest boost – it may not be the area that’s weakest or most challenging for you. It may even be your strength that you need to lean into. It’s the one that will most move the needle for you now and in the future. Where do you get the greatest benefit from investing your energy to improve?

To use a sporting analogy, these days, careers are more like a decathlon than a single athletic event. You’ll have a better chance of winning when you engage in cross-training and working on multiple dimensions in combination, whether that’s strength, endurance and agility in the fitness world, or People, Business and Self in your career context.

If you’re an achiever who wants to advance in your career then you’ll need to equip yourself with the skills, experiences and capabilities needed to succeed at every stage.

Which ones are most pressing for you to address right now?