Building Career Capital to Become a Successful Leader

As I study the lives of successful female leaders, I am noticing a pattern. Though not all of them follow an exact pattern, the ones who end up where I want to end up do follow something similar. They invest time in becoming the best at what they do before they experience success, before they make the big moves that are praised.


Sounds simple, right? But, it is anything but easy to follow this path.


For the past few years, I have focused on the wrong part of the female leaders’ career trajectory. I focused on their stepping up and making big moves, the defiance in those actions. This oversight has been brought to light while I have been re-reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.


When we Millennials think about choosing our own path and following our passion, we get images of gloriously walking out on our day job to pursue autonomy and success. I have been there, done that. This is the “courage” that is praised in books like Escape from Cubicle Nation. Do we have the courage and belief in ourselves to pursue what we really want to do? Why not just up-and-quit your job and make your way in the world? This takeaway may not be what the author intended, but it is the message readers take away after reading the book.


What should be changed? The emphasis on building career capital.


What I myself overlooked was the fact that those who do succeed in life, work or business ONLY make drastic moves after they have earned enough career capital. They have put in their time working menial jobs and doing the best work they can in various positions. They discover ways to improve upon the processes in those jobs and gain credibility with employers or clients. Putting in their 10,000 hours (or thereabouts) of deep work to achieve mastery in their fields, they then can make the leap minimizing the risk of utter failure.


For example, this story about a 35-year-old female executive who broke free from corporate to start her own business earning $50,000 per month is a sensational read. I think too many of us focus on the fact that she makes six figures every couple months in her own business WITHOUT studying the path she took to get that point. Before she could become the business person capable of bringing home that income, she had to put a few of The 48 Laws of Power into practice in the corporate world by getting smaller wins and interacting with people in leadership. She wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, who started a business from home and ended up making that amount. Though that can be one path to success for some, I doubt it’s the norm. She achieved her credibility and built her confidence in corporate. I think that’s a lesson we like to overlook because it’s not sexy.


This year is the one I’ve claimed for achieving mastery and turning pro. Part of that process is morphing into the future self I must become through professional growth, studying the masters and implementing what I learn. All of this MUST be done before I actively pursue opportunity. I am committing to at least one year of “becoming” before I attempt the big moves, shying away from my prior tendency to prematurely seek out opportunity before developing myself to handle that opportunity. During this time, I would not be surprised if serendipity found a way to open the right doors at the right time. There is a saying that goes something like this, “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”


Your Turn: If you’re eager to experience success in your career, what trajectory are you following? Which actions will get/have gotten you to the next level? I would be very interested in connecting with you around leadership and the work it takes to get there.