I recently spent an afternoon with Carly Fiorina discussing how leadership values and tools can make a difference in communities around the world. Carly and I are two sides of the leadership coin—I’m an encouraging leader who helps people discover (or rediscover) values of leadership, while Carly is an empowering leader who provides practical tools and problem-solving skills that help people get things done.
Both of us have been around the block a few times, and we’ve each seen a lot over the course of our leadership careers. What I love about Carly is that she has solved problems and changed the order of things for the better at every stop along the way.
Some people have challenged her leadership, but the results speak for themselves. She’s been a CEO, presidential candidate, and spokesperson for global change, and it’s all because she’s built the one thing all leaders need.
I believe credibility—respect—is earned on difficult ground, and Carly can attest to that. It’s our ability to get things done that earns us more opportunities for leadership as we climb the ladder of success.
Climbing the ladder is one of the four stages I identify in my chapter on Production in Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. The shift we make from climbing the ladder to helping others build their own ladder is one of the most rewarding a leader can make, but it’s impossible without first making the climb.
That’s because success fuels significance. The more you produce as a leader, the more opportunities you create for greater impact through your leadership.
So how do you climb the ladder?
How do you set yourself apart in a world where everyone is chasing success?
Here are three questions you need to ask yourself if you want to separate yourself from the crowd:
1. What Are My Strengths?
Success comes from building on your strengths and maximizing them. While others will attempt to shore up their weaknesses, you need to focus on developing your strengths.
I’ve long said that in areas of skill, target strengths, and in areas of character, target weaknesses—because skills growth happens more naturally in areas where we’re not fighting it.
2. What Are My Opportunities?
Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by opportunities to get ahead. They may not be large opportunities, but that’s okay—seize the small ones and bigger ones will come along. Align them with your strengths, and you’ll see things take off quickly.
I’ll never forget telling my nephew Troy the secret to advancement. He was starting his first job, and I reminded him there were four small opportunities that not many people would take: show up earlier than others, stay later than others, take shorter lunches, and introduce yourself to the CEO as someone who could be called upon to do anything at any time.
Now, Troy was young, unmarried, just starting out, but within three months he’d achieved levels of advancement that no one in his company had ever seen. All because he took advantage of the small opportunities presented him—the same kind of opportunities you have as well.
3. Am I Taking Steps Every Day?
Seeing and seizing opportunities are of little benefit if you’re not doing the personal work to get better daily. Daily improvements in your strengths, relationships, character, knowledge, and experience are the key to reaching the top 10% of your market.
That top 10% is where you are set apart from all the rest in areas of money, influence, opportunities, and relationships. It’s the tipping point of success, and the transition toward significance. It’s how you begin to make the shift from ladder climber to the next stage.
To make that top 10%, however, you must make sure that you’re climbing effectively. Shortcutting your way to the top never works—doing everything you can to assure an easy, painless climb just assures you’ll have an easy, painless fall…but the crash at the end will really hurt you.
So build yourself a firm foundation of character and integrity. Make sure you’re aligned with your purpose. Don’t step on others or skip any rungs on your way up. Take time to pause, reflect, and gain perspective. Make sure you keep improving as you climb. Above all else, make sure you acknowledge and add value to the people holding the ladder for you.
If you do that, one day, you’ll hold the ladder for someone else.