Early on in my sales career, I was motivated and focused on climbing the ladder at the massive company I was working for. While the commission checks were nice, I was SO focused on advancement that I often lost sight of what was necessary to make that advancement happen.
The numbers weren't the problem. I was routinely crushing my sales goals and was a regular on the leaderboard for monthly and quarterly results. I had tons of awards and other symbols of my achievements, yet, when the conversation turned to whom was destined to be the next great sales leader in the organization, I struggled to be included in the conversation.
Finally, I'd had enough.
The next opportunity I had, I sat down with the Regional Vice President of Sales for a discussion specific to this topic. I often struggled to control my emotions back in those days, so part of the challenge for me was keeping my composure, as I was certain emotions were going to run high. To counter that reaction, I prepared a list of topics I wanted to cover, including responses to potential objections that might be presented based on the case I was making for myself. As we sat down for the discussion, my palms were practically spigots they were sweating so much and my heart was thundering in my chest.
The first sentence out of this guy's mouth forever changed the trajectory of my career, and decades later his message rings true in my head.
"Roger, you've proven to be reliable, consistent and we look to you for leadership when we're trying to implement behavior change in the sales ranks. You obviously care greatly about our teams' success and a number of your peers look up to you for guidance and support." As he was speaking to me, I looked at my list and realized that he was pre-empting many of the attributes I was planning on using as the basis of my claim that I was deserving of the advancement opportunities I witnessed being handed out to other members of our team.
What he told me next was where the real value came from. "While you've been busy crushing your number and being an A player, you've left out an extremely key component of this process."
"What's that?" I asked.
"While you outperform most of your peers, you spend very little time in conversation with me and the other executives. While we respect and appreciate your performance, plus we all believe you have the aptitude, because of the relative infrequency of our communications, when it comes time to review candidates for our leadership positions as they become available, no one from the executive team has a deep enough trust-based relationship with you to feel confident to put their name on your candidacy. Quite simply, it's up to YOU to make US feel as though you're the obvious choice."
As I crumpled up my deftly prepared notes, I thanked him for the advice and retreated back to my cubicle, tail planted FIRMLY between my legs.
Over the years I have become keenly aware of the value of trust amongst and between members of a team, and while I was doing yeoman's work in the bullpen to help build cohesion and togetherness amongst the team, none of THEM were extolling my virtues up the ladder, so the depth of my contribution was being missed by those above me, and I was doing almost no work personally in making those managerial-like traits visible to the people who really needed to see them if I was to make that all-important first step by transitioning into a leadership role. I was equal parts embarrassed at my lack of vision and disappointed that I wasn't being championed in the way I had hoped by the rest of the team.
Countless times in the 20+ years since that conversation, I have found myself sharing this story with someone in a similar situation. If you expect that other people are going to create your future for you, you'll be waiting for a VERY long time. If you want something that requires consent from others, it's vitally important to not only understand what will be required to get it, you have to make yourself the obvious choice, which includes spending time investing in relationships, building trust, and giving those in control of what you seek an iron-clad reason to vote for you.