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Leading in Your Twenties – Be the First to Start

Getting started was more important than getting it right.

I was standing in the middle of the restaurant alone. Everyone else was moving fast and getting things organized for when the doors opened to our customers. I was 18 years old, and it was my first day. I waited for people to tell me what to do.

That was when one of the experienced waitresses walked past me and said, “Don’t just stand there, do something helpful!” Her challenge jolted me into action. I picked up a stack of plates and followed her. For the next 20 minutes, I did what she did and learned how to get the dining room set up for a new day of business. I worked next to her until the maître de came over and yelled at me for working in the wrong section of the restaurant!

But his last comment was, “Well, at least you were doing something productive.”

I learned that day that doing my Duty was more dependent on my initiative than on any set of instructions I had not received. Getting started was more important than getting it right. It has been almost 40 years since my first day waiting tables, but I still believe getting started has been more important for me than getting directions.

There are very few times in life where someone lays out a well-marked path in front of us. Most of the time, we get little or no direction. What will you do at those moments? The trailblazers, the people who go first - the leaders - are the ones who don’t wait for someone to give them a complete roadmap of the journey. They get started. They get lost. They get back on track. They navigate obstacles. And, they learn a lot on the way to their destination.

Leaders move while there are still others sitting at the starting line. Those people are waiting for someone to tell them when to take their first step and what shoes to wear on the trip!

The people who learn at an early age to get started, and take the initiative, are the ones who earn the first opportunities to lead in the future. Initiative is not something that gets bestowed on you when someone gives you the title of leader. It is something you develop through practice. You exercise the Courage to start, without all the information and you exercise the Duty to go beyond doing just what you are told to do.

If you want to be ready to lead after you get out of school or have success as an individual contributor early in your career, then exercising initiative will separate you from your contemporaries. While they are standing at the starting line waiting for someone to tell them what to do, you will already be doing it, learning and leading. You will be traveling the road to becoming a Leader of Character.


  • When does taking the initiative set you apart in the eyes of others?

  • What causes you to wait instead of getting started?


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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