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You’ve Been Given Bad Advice - Leading in Your Twenties Series

Twenty somethings, you've been given bad advice. "Get a marketable degree and good grades from a big university. Get advanced degrees and have a lot of letters following your name. Get certified in something and publish papers." When you are in your twenties, people tell you these things.

That bad advice is well intentioned. But you have to understand, none of that stuff makes you a leader.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of 12 blogs written directly to the Twenty-Somethings. This is about you and your future. As you read these blogs, please share them with other people who want ideas on how to lead now and how to develop the Twenty-Something Leaders of our future.

Think about it. We all had professors in college that asked to be called "Doctor Anderson " because they earned a PhD. There were some professors who had multiple combinations of letters following their names - Dave Anderson, BS, CME, MBA, PhD. But with all those degrees and impressive credentials, we would not have followed some of them out of a burning paper bag! Why?

People don't follow you because of what you can do.

They follow you because of WHO YOU ARE.

Why Leaders Have Followers

In an online survey we conducted, we asked people who their leadership hero was and what traits did they admire most about that person. We collected 620 responses, and the evidence was overwhelming.

  • 87% of the responses described a character trait as the reason they admired that leader.

  • 13% of the responses described a competence or a skill.

  • The top three traits were Humility, Integrity, and honesty.

  • In fact, the top ten traits people listed all described a Character trait.

The #1 reason people follow leaders is Character.

Why Leaders Fail

We define competency as "knowing what to do and how to do it."

Ask yourself this, "How often does a leader fail because they didn’t know what to do or how to do it?" The answer is rarely. When we think of the biggest failures in leadership recently you can see this pattern holds.

  • Elizabeth Holmes built Theranos into a multi-billion dollar company. She knew what to do and how to do it.

  • Harvey Weinstein won Oscars and made blockbusters. He knew what to do and how to do it.

  • Vladimir Putin rebuilt the Russian economy after the Cold War. He knew what to do and how to do it.

But all of them have been all over the news for their poor leadership. When a leader fails, it is almost always a failure of Character.

The #1 reason leaders fail is Character.

Why Leaders Succeed

Harvard University's Fred Kiel published a pivotal book on character called Return on Character. In it he looked at the success rate of a group of CEO's. Through 360 degree interviews and surveys, he found that the leaders who consistently exercised the highest character, led their companies to five times the financial success as their counterparts.

There were no differences in the education level or experience level of the leaders in the cohort. The difference was in their Character. Good guys/girls can and do finish first!

The #1 reason leaders succeed is Character.

What Determines Your Character

Your Character is not your personality. You were born with your personality. You develop your Character. Your Character is the sum total of your habits - your good habits and your bad habits.

Aristotle said: "You become just by doing just acts. You become brave by doing brave acts."

Who you are is determined by your habits. You form habits one choice at a time. Each time you make a choice, it makes it easier to make that same choice again. That is how habits are formed.

This also means that nobody controls your Character but you!

Your Character is 100% in your control.

Don't continue to focus solely on understanding what to do and how to do it. That is bad advice. You must focus on developing and strengthening your Character.

You develop habits through consistently making choices that will exercise different parts of your Character. The Habits of Character we are going to focus on in future blogs are Courage, Humility, Integrity, Selflessness, Duty, and Positivity.

Maybe you have read a book or gone to a lecture or seminar that mentions that these traits are important. But how many of those have described how you go out and develop those habits?

That is where we are going.

Thinks about this:

  • The #1 reason people follow you - Character - is 100% in your control.

  • The #1 reason leaders fail - Character - is 100% in your control.

  • The #1 reason leaders succeed - Character - is 100% in your control.

You have to DO what you want to BE!

If you want to be a Leader of Character - the leader that people want to follow, the leader that does the right thing in the face of temptation, and the leader who leads teams to success - then you have to DO what Leaders of Character DO.

Join us in these discussions and share this blog with others - especially those people who are interested in leading in their twenties.


  • What sort of character preparation did your school provide for you?

  • Where is your character today?

  • Use the QR code below to take a quick character assessment.


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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