There’s a yawning gap between commitment and compliance. Commitment means acting as an owner. Compliance is simply doing what was asked in exchange for something of value.

That’s why no one washes a rental car.

In every positive succession process I have seen, the successor cares. They care about the business, the predecessor, the vision, the team, the industry, the clients, the relationships, the product, the strategy, the legacy – you name it, it matters.

They’re willing to take the harder way out – running the next leg of a race they didn’t start – than an uncountable number of other career decisions that would be easier and, in many cases, more financially gratifying. They’re willing to act like an owner.

Great successors are unusual. They wash the rental car.

Years ago, I coached a woman in her early 30s. She was intelligent, well-educated, and had quickly climbed the career ladder. When I met with her, she had just accepted a new job working with an impressive Executive VP at a big, tightly regulated company. Sold the new role as a potential successor to the VP, and the opportunity to skip a rung or two on that ladder, she discovered that the VP had been relegated to an inconsequential corner of the business and brought her in as a glorified go-fer.

Recognizing her as a potential talent in the organization, the company hired me to demonstrate their commitment to her and to help prepare her for a different role within the company when she was ready. Leadership was most interested in assessing her commitment to the company. Despite that context, she only worried about her title and salary.

She would never wash the rental car.

A few years later, I ran into her at an event and asked about her progression. She was with the same organization, stalling out. Within a minute or two of talking, she expressed her frustration that she had only had one small promotion and cost-of-living pay raises. She complained that no one in the business was willing to meet her near-constant requests for more.

She still wouldn’t wash the rental car.

The trappings of success tend to be lagging indicators rather than leading ones. Commitment and hard work comes first, even when the payoff isn’t obvious.

Looking to be a worthy successor? Identify what “washing the rental car” is in your business and get to scrubbing.

(Note: This is a preview of Albert’s upcoming book on succession, which will be released in the fall of this year. Stay up to date at