Have you ever felt like you were ready for a promotion but passed over? Overly qualified for a job, but rejected? Thought you were next in line for your boss’s role, but told by another leader that you weren’t ready? If so, then you’re far from alone.

As former President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo knows all about the frustrating waiting game that many executives face when trying to take their career from one level to the next. In her latest book, “Making Waves: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage,” she explains her 30-plus year career journey at Royal Caribbean International and how she eventually became a chief executive officer, making her the first woman to lead one of the company’s cruise line brands.

In the below excerpt, Lutoff-Perlo, who now serves as Vice Chairman of External Affairs for the Royal Caribbean Group, discusses how networking and building relationships with colleagues who were at least one to two levels above her at work led her to her dream role. — Courtney Connley

Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Excerpt from “Making Waves: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage.”

One of the lessons I learned at a critical time in my career was that I hadn’t navigated my career at least two levels above and more broadly across our organization. At that time, I worked directly for two men at different brands who had vacated their presidency roles, and both believed I was the right person for their position. They even recommended me for it. But I hadn’t navigated my career above or beside them. I had only navigated my career as their direct report. This made my exposure limited and didn’t help me get either position, despite the recommendations.

The reality is that when people are on an ascension plan, there is conversation around them about whether they are the right person for the role. It’s important to know that those discussions oftentimes revolve around how well the person in question knows the people making the decisions. Those in charge need to know the candidate, their capabilities, and their attributes really well. You need to be aware of that and ensure you network well and with the right decision-makers so that when your name comes up it’s an easy choice.

When I was coming up, there were limited opportunities to network at the right levels. I had to figure them out on my own. A big part of my ability to ultimately get my current role was the opportunity to talk to and work with our chairman and CEO very closely. Because I had been previously recommended for the role I so desperately wanted twice, and because he hadn’t given it to me twice, I knew that the only way I was going to get a fair shot was if he worked more closely with me to see what I was all about, to check if I really had what it took, and to mentor me to achieve my goal. He had told me he didn’t feel like I was the right person at the time. Both times. That was beyond disappointing, as you might imagine. But, again, I looked at the positive, which was that I now had the opportunity to have a conversation with him and work with him like I’d never done before. I was able to directly ask him what he felt was holding me back. And I continued to reaffirm to him that while I definitely wasn’t happy with his “not yet,” I was determined to turn his no into a yes. Which I ultimately did.

It took more time than I would’ve liked, and I experienced two missed opportunities when they presented themselves. It was frustrating, but I channeled that frustration in a productive way alongside my determination and persistence.

Did it knock me down for a second? Yes.

Did I express my frustration? Yes.

Did I do it professionally? Yes.

Did I channel it positively? Yes.

I learned later on that how I handled those situations made a big and positive impact on how the CEO perceived me and was one of many factors that contributed to the ultimate decision that I was right and ready to lead Celebrity.

As I transitioned into my new role as president and CEO of one of our brands, I had been in the company in various roles for 30 years. I had worked methodically and tenaciously during that time to do my best, to get the results I needed, and to stay positive, focused, and determined. And I had also learned to be patient. Nothing great is accomplished without putting in the time and gaining the experience you need—even when you face disappointment along the way.

We don’t always get the things we want when we want them. In those situations, the best you can do is internalize your feelings, respond from a positive point of view, and change what might be holding you back—because those things are within your control.

Advocates and sponsors will support and promote you along the way. There will be skeptics, too, and you will have the opportunity (more than once, surely) to tackle the challenges with grace and prove them wrong. When you don’t get what you want, it might not be because you’ve failed. Maybe you’re just not ready, or maybe those skeptics just don’t see what your advocates see. But they will. Because you’ll change their minds in a positive way through positive actions.

It’s okay to be resentful and feel discouraged but keep those feelings below the surface. Don’t project them onto others. That will never help. If you are good at what you do, and you believe you deserve something better, it will come. It might be president or CEO or manager. It could be anything. Accept and embrace the skeptics, and then work hard to change their minds.

And as Oprah says, “I’ve been underestimated every step of the way, and it’s so exciting when you can prove them all wrong.”

Excerpted from "Making Waves: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage" (Matt Holt Books, February 20, 2024), copyright © 2023 by Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. Reprinted with permission from Matt Holt Books, an imprint of BenBella Books, Inc. All rights reserved.