As you progress along your career S-Curve, there will be points in time, which I call Career Gates, when you’ll be expected to demonstrate that you’ve “got what it takes” to advance: that “right mix” of competencies and attributes crucial to winning the support of key people in your career.

When you miss a Career Gate, it can be costly and cause you to undershoot your career potential.

When you choose to do so, that’s okay. But otherwise, it’s a shame. In fact, the world needs you to be at your best as much of the time as possible.

Why Achievers Can Undershoot Their Potential

There are several different reasons why you may miss Career Gates unintentionally and run into this kind of career roadblock. I find that they tend to be grouped into these three categories:

  • Awareness – You don’t (yet) have the right mix of capabilities and aren’t aware that it’s important to develop them.
  • Experience – You have the capabilities but haven’t developed them fully yet.
  • Exposure – You have the capabilities, they’re fully developed, but you haven’t demonstrated them to the people who matter.

Whether you’ve already missed a Career Gate and need to get back on track, or want to avoid doing so in the future, the question is: How can you demonstrate you “have what it takes” when it counts?

The “Learn It, Do It, Show It” Strategy

While there’s undoubtedly some serendipity involved in all success stories, it pays to have a strategy and execute on it proactively.

With that in mind, here’s a 3-step strategy to help you avoid missing Career Gates, stay on your career trajectory, and get back on the path if you’ve fallen off.

Step 1: Learn It

Before you can show you have what it takes, you need to actually have the package of capabilities needed.

This is about understanding the “what”: The package of necessary capabilities will depend on your career sector and the specifics within your organization. Go find out what’s seen as the right capability set for your level and one above, and then tailor it to your particular situation.

It’s also about the “why”: Understanding why something is important is the basis for motivation and successful learning. It will also put you in the proper mindset to prioritize investing the time, energy and focus required to develop these new capabilities.

For example, if a key capability is being able to influence others (the “what”), then that may mean learning to adapt your style to be effective with a variety of people rather than sticking to just one way of approaching people. You may want to invest in some training, do some reading, hire a coach.

And at a certain level of seniority, if you can’t figure out how to flex your style so you can deliver results even when you’re working with difficult colleagues or clients, you’re likely to top out before your time, and make your team less successful as well (the “why”).

Step 2: Do It

Once you understand what the capabilities are that you need and why they are important, it’s about taking action.

This is about the “how”: Having strategies, tactics and tools at your disposal for gaining those capabilities in a way that works for you within the context of your situation.

It’s also about putting those strategies, tactics and tools into practice. It’s easy to intellectually “get” something and say to yourself, “got it, that’s obvious”. But actually doing is what counts.

No matter how well you understand the concept of influencing rather than ordering people around, you can’t become great at it without putting in the “10,000 hours” that Malcolm Gladwell refers to in his book Outliers.

Plus, there’s always room to improve and new ways to learn. So “Do It” is also about experimenting with new methods, refining and improving your results. That’s how the best stay at the cutting edge.

For example, the “Do It” aspect of developing better influencing capabilities might entail the following strategy: Figure out who you need to influence to get a particular project approved, what their interests are likely to be (the “what’s in it for them”), who else you know that could help, and the best way to approach them. And you could also practice using that same strategy outside of work.

Step 3: Show It

Having taken action and practiced your capabilities is not enough. You also need those important “others” to know you have those capabilities.

Where I see many achievers fall down is in the “Show It” step. They have all the capabilities needed, but the right people don’t know it.

Which is why the answer to the question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall?” is that it’s irrelevant. And when it comes to your career, you don’t want to be irrelevant.

“Show It” is about the “who” and “when”: Knowing which decision-makers, opinion leaders and influencers need to experience you in action, and finding the right moments to demonstrate to them what you are capable of.

While serendipity can play a role, you can’t expect to be “discovered” by chance like Channing Tatum or Marilyn Monroe. Instead, look for both normal everyday opportunities (micro moments like your weekly meeting) and special opportunities (macro moments like board meetings or speeches) and use them to your advantage.

For example, demonstrating that you can use your influence to get an unruly meeting back on track in a big meeting with senior management will get you more kudos than when you do it in a meeting with your juniors. Use the latter to practice and hone your capability so you’re ready when the macro moment comes.

So, where are you on the “Learn It, Do It, Show It” spectrum and which of the three aspects would yield the greatest benefit if you focused on it right now?

Next week, we’ll identify 9 Achiever Capabilities that are crucial to “Learn, Do and Show” in order to help you pass through your Career Gates and keep advancing.