July 13, 2023

Learn, Lead, Then Leverage: Advice For The College Graduate And Aspiring Entrepreneur

At my stage in life/career, I am often asked: “What does it take to be successful”? I would often stumble with an answer and/or shrug my shoulders and say “hard work”. So, I decided to put together a better “answer”—knowing it really is not an answer—but more my advice. So, here it goes; Learn, Lead, and Leverage.

Expanding on that, these things must happen in order:


When you are in your 20s, be paid in experience.

  • Learn as much as you can about your chosen profession or professions. Whether a teacher, carpenter, accountant, marketer, learn everything you can about the job, the companies, and the industry. This is the time in your career where you get to ask any questions you want (and not be expected to know the answer). And you can be a sponge. The more you learn, the more valuable you are. Hopefully, you enjoy learning! There are always times you might not like your job or your company, but you can always learn. When the day comes that you’re ready to start a business, you had better be an expert in that area.
  • An example in my life: When I was 23 years old working for Pepsi Cola, I was a general ledger accountant. The lowest rung on the accounting ladder. I always noticed the Budget/Financial analysts doing interesting things. They were always going into meetings with executives, they dressed better, and they had this esprit de corps about them. I decided I wanted to be one of them. I found out during budget planning season (the summer), that they were going to be working a few weekends getting the next year’s budgets ready and I asked if I could work the weekends with them, do whatever they wanted me to do. They just had to take the time to explain things and let me sit in on a few meetings. They did that. I worked a few weekends (16-hour days doing charts—before power point!). I learned a lot. So much that I became an Analyst nine months later.


Once you have learned you will probably be asked to lead!

  • If you work hard and learn in your 20s you will be asked to lead other people in your 30s—possibly before then. Learning to lead people is hard work and there are lots of ways to do it. If you work hard, you will spend the bulk of your career leading others and that is a valuable and gratifying experience. There are thousands of books and articles on this topic so I won’t go into “how” to lead but I will assert that you should relish the chance to lead people/teams/divisions/business-units. And you should learn to do it well. Even if your leadership is by proxy (having the respect of others) versus being their manager on an org-chart, leading is a key to starting a business someday.
  • An example in my life: I was put in charge of a big sales-service division at a company. This was after years of managing and leading smaller groups. I was so psyched, I got t-shirts made up for all my team for an upcoming company-wide meeting. All my team members wore the shirts, and I got reprimanded pretty hard for doing it. What did I do wrong? I was leading. The problem was, I did not tell the other leaders I was doing it. In my passion to lead, I created a situation where the other managers felt like I was trying to one-up them and their teams by being different and making them look bad. I learned I should have given them a heads-up. Leading is never easy. You must please and manage the people working for you, manage and lead your peers, and manage the folks above you.


Combine everything you’ve learned and the demands of leadership to begin your entrepreneurial journey.

  • If you have the passion to become an expert in field and you’ve learned what it takes to create a vision/mission/strategy/tactics for leading people, you will find opportunities to leverage both of those to either start your own business or run a sizable business/enterprise/school-system. Leverage is created by learning and leading—it prepares you!

Originally posted on Forbes.com