On the one hand, it’s self-evident. Those that put in the work required to succeed are more likely to succeed. Yet so many think they are so entitled to success that they don’t have to put in the work.

We’re bombarded with stories about overnight start-up successes, naturally talented athletes miraculously rising to the top, people striking it rich by betting on the right stock or right lottery ticket.

Yes. Those things do happen; but not to most people. Most successful people earn their success. As I wrote in a previous article, they get a higher return on luck by being ready for and open to opportunities. As Vince Lombardi put it, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.”

Let’s look at this in three areas: Personal career development; Executive Onboarding; Leadership.

Personal Career Development

When it comes to personal career development, preparing to win is about investing in your own strengths. Strengths are a combination of innate talent + learned knowledge + practiced skills + hard-won experience + apprenticed craft-level caring and sensibilities.

The point here is that strengths aren’t bestowed. They are earned. Want strengths? You’re going to have to do the homework to learn knowledge. You’re going to have to put in the time to practice skills. You’re going to have to take a risk and maybe even a lateral or backward move to acquire hard-won experience. And, if you want to achieve craft-level mastery of something, you’re going to have to humble yourself as an apprentice to a master.

Not everyone is willing to do those things. That’s why not everyone earns real strengths.

Executive Onboarding

Doing the homework improves your odds of success at every one of the seven stages of executive onboarding I laid out in an earlier article.

  1. Before the first contact, invest in building your personal strengths per above, creating a differentiated personal positioning and personal marketing to get noticed.
  2. Between the first contact and offer, do the homework to answer the only three interview questions in the way that is most relevant to the individual people you’re talking to.
  3. At the offer, invest deeply in due diligence to overcome your bias to accept the offer.
  4. Leverage the Fuzzy Front End between acceptance to prepare and get a head start, jump-starting critical relationships in particular.
  5. In the early days of a new job, keep investing in relationships until you’ve earned the right to lead.
  6. Then, at the right time, pivot from converging to evolving, investing the time to co-create a burning imperative.
  7. And, when things change, invest the time to control how you react to change deliberately to do their job, their way.


As I laid out in an earlier article on the constant pursuit of mastery, the leadership journey never ends. The moment you think you’ve done all the homework and mastered it is the moment you start falling behind. It’s not about you. It’s not about your talents or your strengths. It’s about the never-ending pursuit of learning and growing and getting better at inspiring, enabling and empowering others to join you in a shared purpose.


I often flip the classroom and ask people to do homework before we meet on a particular subject so I can help them ratchet up their current best thinking on things like

  • Career development plans to build their strengths
  • Interview preparation to get the right job offers
  • Personal 100-Day Action Plans to accelerate and de-risk their own executive onboarding
  • A whole range of leadership challenges and communication from notes to papers to meetings to presentations to increase their influence and impact
  • Personal positioning statements and then messaging and then marketing plans to help them get on a board.

I can’t help people that don’t do any homework at all, struggle with people that do the bare minimum, can make meaningful contributions to people that do it well, and learn from those that take it to new levels.

Most people get the success they deserve. You get to choose how much to invest in yourself. My advice, forget your entitlements and do the homework required for you to deserve to win.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #817) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.


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