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How Courage Ensures Your Success in Your 20’s

MBA’s are degrees in business administration, not business leadership.

When you are in your twenties, everyone tells you to get good grades and focus on building your resume. That advice is great! It’s on target! But it is not enough. That advice prepares people to do well in their first jobs when they are individual contributors within a larger team. But if that is all you focus on, you will not be prepared for the next step – your first time leading people.

When I speak at colleges, medical schools or with businesses that hire people straight out of school, many young professionals have not thought about what it will take to be successful beyond their first job. I ask “What are you doing to prepare yourself to become leaders?” and I often get blank stares.

If I do get an answer, they usually revolve around getting an MBA or reading some leadership books. I applaud everyone in their twenties who are thinking ahead to leading someday. That will put you ahead of many people. But remember two things:

  1. MBAs are degrees in business administration, not in business leadership.

  2. Reading about leadership does not make you a leader.

You have to DO what you want to BE. Passing tests or writing papers on leadership theory will not make you a leader that inspires people to follow you. Your success may be aided by what you study or what you read, but there are plenty of well-educated people who have never become the type of leader others want to follow.

In his book, Return on Character, Harvard professor Fred Kiel found that CEOs who demonstrated the highest character led their companies to five times the financial growth compared to competent yet lower character leaders.

Kiel’s research identified some critically important habits that separated these two groups of leaders.

The Leaders of Character:

  • Consistently acted based on their professed principles and stood up for what is right.

  • Owned their personal choices, including their mistakes.

  • Stepped up and served others.

  • Forgave others for their poor choices and focused on what is right versus what is wrong.

  • Empowered others and showed commitment to their development.

Each of these actions require a leader to exercise Courage. The Courage needed from leaders at all levels does not magically appear once they get promoted into leadership. We develop Courage through a lifetime of practice.

Even if you are still in school, when you choose to exercise Courage, you are preparing yourself for the challenges of the future. Kiel’s research shows that just knowing the management skills in books and Masters programs is not enough to ensure your future success as a leader. You have to DO what you want to BE. You have to DO what Leaders of Character DO, and you have to begin doing it now.

Our own research adds to Professor Kiel’s. When we ask people what they admire most about their favorite leaders, 87% of our responses describe a character trait. Only 13% describe any management based competency. The people you want to lead tomorrow, the people who will follow you today, want to follow character. And character requires Courage.

“Courage is not just one of the virtues. But the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

- CS Lewis


  • How does Courage play a role in your favorite leader’s life?

  • How can exercising Courage set you up for success as a leader?


“Would you follow you?” That is a critical question we all need to ask ourselves if we want to become Leaders of Character. Research has proven that people want to follow character. But where is your character today?

Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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