Day 1: Composition

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COURAGE TESTS 

YOUR TALENT 

 

People think of courage as a quality required only in times of extreme danger or stress, such as dur- 

ing war or a disaster. But it is much larger than that—and more ordinary than we think. Courage is 

an everyday virtue. Professor, writer, and apologist C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of 

the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” You can do nothing worthwhile without 

courage. The person who exhibits courage is able to live without regrets. 

 

DISCOVER 

 

Describe a person who displays courage. 

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Circle the characteristics in the above description that you posses. 

 

How can courage be an everyday virtue? How can you incorporate the characteristics you circled 

into your daily life?   ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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WHY DOES TALENT NEED COURAGE? 

 

English writer and clergyman Sydney Smith asserted, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.” To develop and discover our talent, we need courage. 

 

The English word courage comes from the French word coeur, which means “heart.” And we need to 

recognize that if we display courage, our hearts will be tested continually. Here’s what I mean: 

 

1. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

As We Seek a Truth That We Know May Be Painful A person doesn’t know what he’s really made of 

until he is tested. If we fear the test, then we will never get a chance to develop the talent. Often our 

tests are more private and involve an internal battle, and many people find that painful. Pulitzer 

Prize–winning columnist Herbert Agar said, “The truth that makes men free is for the most part the 

truth which men prefer not to hear.” 

 

In order to grow, we need to face truths about ourselves, and that is often a difficult process. It 

usually looks something like this: 

• The issue. Often it is something we do not want to hear about. 

• The temptation. We want to ignore it, rationalize it, spin it, or package it. 

• The decision. We must face the truth and make personal changes. 

• The challenge. Change is not easy; our decision to change will be tested daily. 

• The response. Others will be slow to acknowledge it; they will wait to see if our behavior changes. 

• The respect. Respect is always gained on difficult ground, and it comes from others only when 

our behavior and words match. 

What issue have you been avoiding because you know it will be painful to work through? 

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What is the reward for facing the issue? 

 

Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it 

takes to sit down and listen.” It takes a brave person to listen to unpleasant truths. I have to admit 

that this has been a challenging area for me. I find it much easier to cast vision, motivate people, 

and lead the charge than to sit, listen to others speak truth, humble myself, and respond appro- 

priately, but I’m continuing to work on it. 

 

How do you respond to constructive criticism? How does your response affect your growth? 

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2. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

When Change Is Needed But Inactivity Is More Comfortable Being inactive and never leaving what is 

familiar may mean that you are comfortable, but having the willingness to continually let go of the 

familiar means that you are courageous. 

 

American historian James Harvey Robinson asserted, “Greatness, in the last analysis, is largely due 

to bravery—courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing 

things.” 

 

How often do you step outside of your comfort zone? What have you experienced in those situa- 

tions? 

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Our situation doesn’t make us; we make our situation. Our circumstances don’t have to define 

us; we can redefine our circumstances by our actions. At any given time, we must be willing to give 

up all we have in order to become all we can be. If we do that, if we are willing to leave our comfort 

zone and bravely keep striving, we can reach heights we thought were beyond us. We can go farther 

than others who possess greater talent than we do. 

 

Italian actress Sophia Loren observed, “Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith 

in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with the inner drive, go much farther 

than people with vastly superior talent.” 

 

What does the statement “Our situation doesn’t make us; we make our situation” mean to you? 

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What holds you back from trying something unknown (fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of rejection, 

etc.)? Does this fear outweigh the reward for moving forward? 

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3. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

When Our Convictions, Once Expressed, Are Challenged Anytime you are willing to stand up for 

something, someone else will be willing to take a shot at you. People who express their convictions 

and attempt to live them out will conflict with others who have opposing views. Ralph Waldo Emer- 

son wrote, “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always 

someone to say you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that 

your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the 

same courage a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men to win them.” So 

should we simply keep a low profile, swallow our convictions, and keep the peace? Of course not! 

The opposite of courage isn’t cowardice; it is conformity. It’s not enough just to believe in some- 

thing. We need to live for something. Howard Hendricks said, “A belief is something you will argue 

about. A conviction is something you will die for.” You cannot really live unless there are things in 

your life for which you are willing to die. 

 

List your convictions. 

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How do you respond to those who challenge your ideas or beliefs? 

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How have you prepared to respond to those who challenge your ideas or beliefs? If you haven’t, 

draw from what you learned in Chapter 5. 

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4. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

When Learning and Growing Will Display Our Weakness Learning and growing always require ac- 

tion, and action takes courage—especially in the weak areas of our lives. That is where fear most 

often comes into play. It’s easy to be brave in an area of strength; it’s much more difficult in an area 

of weakness. That is why we need courage most. General Omar Bradley remarked, “Bravery is the 

capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” 

 

When I am striving to learn and grow in an area of weakness and I am afraid of failing or looking 

foolish, I encourage myself with these quotations: 

 

• “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.”—George S. Patton • “The difference between a 

hero and a coward is one step sideways.” 

—Gene Hackman • “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”—Karl Barth 

• “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”— 

Eddie Rickenbacker • “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”—John Wayne 

 

We often mistakenly believe that learning is passive, that we learn by reading a book or listening 

to a lecture. But to learn, we must take action. As Coach Don Shula and management expert Ken 

Blanchard state, “Learning is defined as a change in behavior. You haven’t learned a thing until you 

can take action and use it.” And that is where fear often comes into play. The learning process can 

be summarized in the following five steps: 

1. Observe. 

2. Act. 

3. Evaluate. 

4. Readjust. 

5. Go back to step 2. 

Every time you prepare to take action, fear will to some degree come into play. It is at those times 

that you must rely on courage. 

 

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of modern Israel, observed, “Courage is a special kind 

of knowledge; the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared, and how not to fear what 

ought not to be feared. From this knowledge comes an inner strength that subconsciously inspires us to push on in the face of great difficulty. What can seem impossible is often possible, with 

courage.” Courage is a releasing force for learning and growth. 

 

Why does growth require courage? 

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5. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

When We Choose to Take the High Road Even as Others Treat Us Badly 

 

In 2004 I wrote a book called Winning with People: Discover the People Principles That Work for You 

Every Time. In it is the High Road Principle, which says, “We go to a higher level when we treat oth- 

ers better than they treat us.” When it comes to dealing with others, there are really only three 

routes we can take: 

• The low road—where we treat others worse than they treat us. 

• The middle road—where we treat others the same as they treat us. 

• The high road—where we treat others better than they treat us.¹ 

 

The low road damages relationships and alienates others from us. The middle road may not drive 

people away, but it doesn’t attract them either. But the high road creates positive relationships with 

others and attracts people to us—even in the midst of conflict. 

 

Which road are you on with your co-workers? Family? Acquaintances? Close friends? 

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Are you keeping score? If so, how do you determine the winner? When does the game end? 

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Taking the high road requires two things. The first is courage. It certainly isn’t one’s immediate 

inclination to turn the other cheek and treat people well while they treat you badly. How does one 

find the courage to do that? By relying on the second thing, about which clergyman Dr. James B. 

Mooneyhan writes: 

 

There is a great cancer working at the integrity of our society. It gets in the way of our efficiency 

and hampers our success. It robs us of the promotions we seek and the prestige we desire. The 

great tragedy is that none of us are immune to it automatically. Each of us must work to over- 

come it. 

 

This malignancy is the lack of the ability to forgive. When someone wrongs us we make mental 

notes to remember what was done or we think of ways to “get back at them.” Someone gets the 

promotion we wanted so badly and resentment toward that person begins to build. 

 

Our spouse makes a mistake or does something offensive to us and we see what we can do to 

get even or at least make sure they never forget the hurt they have caused us. 

 

When we keep score of wrongs committed against us, we reveal a lack of maturity. 

 

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success 

is knowing how to get along with people.” Those who do not forgive are persons who have not 

yet learned this truth and they are usually unsuccessful people. 

 

If you wish to improve this area of your life, here are some things that should help. First, prac- 

tice forgiving . . . Secondly, think good thoughts of those persons . . . It is difficult to have hos- 

tile feelings toward one in whom you see good. Finally, let people know through your actions 

that you are one who can forgive and forget. This will gain respect for you. 

 

Remember this: Committing an injury puts you below your enemy; taking revenge only makes 

you even with him, but forgiving him sets you above. 

 

No one makes the most of his talent in isolation. Becoming your best will require the partic- 

ipation of other people. When you take the high road with others, you make yourself the kind of per- 

son others want to work with—and you put yourself in the best position to help others at the same 

time. 

 

How do you express an attitude of forgiveness?  ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What makes you the type of person whom others enjoy working with? 

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6. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

When Being “Out Front” Makes Us an Easy Target Many people admire leaders and innovators. Or- 

ganizations give them honors; historians write books about them; sculptors chisel their images on 

the face of mountains. However, just as many people lift leaders up, others want to knock them 

down. C. V. White describes this tension well: 

 

The man who makes a success of an important venture never waits for the crowd. He strikes 

out for himself. It takes nerve, it takes a lot of grit; but the man that succeeds has both. 

 

Anyone can fail. The public admires the man who has enough confidence in himself to take the 

chance. These chances are the main things after all. The man who tries to succeed must expect 

to be criticized. Nothing important was ever done but the greater number consulted previously 

doubted the possibility. Success is the accomplishment of that which people think can’t be 

done. 

 

If you are a leader or even an innovative thinker, you will often be ahead of the crowd, and that 

will at times make you an easy target. That requires courage. 

 

For many years, I hosted an event in Atlanta called Exchange. It was a weekend leadership expe- 

rience for executives. I usually did some leadership teaching, brought in some high profile leaders 

to answer questions, and arranged a unique leadership experience. One year we took the group to 

the King Center so that they could be impacted by the life and legacy of a great leader, Martin Luther 

King Jr. We then took them over to Ebenezer Baptist Church. And as a surprise we had arranged for 

King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and daughter Bernice to be there so that everyone could meet 

them. 

 

One question asked of Mrs. King was what it was like being with Dr. King during the civil rights 

movement, and she talked about the loneliness of being a pioneer and taking new territory. She said 

that her husband was often misunderstood, and she pointed out how much courage it took to 

stand alone. 

 

We will almost certainly never have to face the hatred and violence that Martin Luther King Jr. did, 

but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need courage to lead. Often leaders are misunderstood, their 

motives are misconstrued, and their actions are criticized. That, too, can be a test—one that makes 

us stronger and sharpens our talent if only we have the courage to endure it. 

 

7. Our Courage Will Be Tested . . . 

 

Whenever We Face Obstacles to Our Progress 

 

Advice columnist Ann Landers wrote, “If I were asked to give what I consider the single most use- 

ful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and 

when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. 

You cannot defeat me.’” 

 

Adversity is always the partner of progress. Anytime we want to move forward, obstacles, diffi- 

culties, problems, and predicaments are going to get in the way. We should expect nothing less. 

And we should even welcome such things. Novelist H. G. Wells asked, “What on earth would a 

man do with himself if something didn’t stand in his way?” Why would he make such a comment? 

Because he recognized that adversity is our friend, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Every obsta- 

cle we overcome teaches us about ourselves, about our strengths and weaknesses. Every obstacle 

shapes us. When we succeed in the midst of difficulty, we become stronger, wiser, and more confi- 

dent. The greatest people in history are those who faced the most difficult challenges with courage 

and rose to the occasion. 


What has adversity taught you? 

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TALENT + COURAGE = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON 

PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION 

It’s tempting to learn about the life of someone like Churchill or Eisenhower and believe that cer- 

tain people are born with courage and are destined for greatness while others must sit on the side- 

lines and simply admire them. But I don’t think that is true. I believe that anyone can develop 

courage. If you desire to become a more courageous person, then do the following: 

 

1. Look for Courage Inside, Not Outside, Yourself 

 

During the Great Depression, Thomas Edison delivered his last public message. In it he said, “My 

message to you is: Be courageous! I have lived a long time. I have seen history repeat itself again 

and again. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has come out stronger and 

more prosperous. Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! 

Go forward!” Edison knew that when we experience fear, we must be willing to move forward. That 

is an individual decision. Courage starts internally before it is displayed externally. We must first 

win the battle within ourselves. 

 

I love the story about the shortest letter to the editor written to England’s newspaper the Daily 

Mail. When the editor invited readers to send in their answers to the question, “What’s wrong with 

the world?” writer G. K. Chesterton is reputed to have sent the following: 

 

Dear Sir, 

 

I am. 

 

Yours sincerely, 

 

G.K. Chesterton 

 

The old saying goes, “If we could kick the person responsible for most of our troubles, we 

wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.” Courage, like all other character qualities, comes from 

within. It begins as a decision we make and grows as we make the choice to follow through. So the 

first step toward becoming a talent-plus person in the area of courage is to decide to be coura- 

geous. 

 

What does being courageous involve?  ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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2. Grow in Courage by Doing the Right Thing Instead of the Expedient Thing 

 

Florence Nightingale observed, “Courage is . . . the universal virtue of all those who choose to do 

the right thing over the expedient thing. It is the common currency of all those who do what they are 

supposed to do in a time of conflict, crisis, and confusion.” The acquisition of courage can often be 

an internal battle. We often desire to do what is most expedient. The problem is that what is easy 

and expedient is frequently not what is right. Thus the battle. But psychotherapist and author 

Sheldon Kopp stated, “All the significant battles are wages within self.” 

 

As you strive to do what you know to be right, you must know yourself and make sure you are act- 

ing in integrity with your core values. There’s a saying that inside every individual there are six peo- 

ple. They are . . . 

Who You Are Reputed to Be 

Who You Are Expected to Be 

Who You Were 

Who You Wish to Be 

Who You Think You Are 

Who You Really Are 

Go back and define each of the six statements as it relates to you. 

 

You must strive to be true to who you really are. If you do strive and if you do the right thing, then 

you will increase in courage. 

 

3. Take Small Steps of Courage to Prepare Yourself for Greater Ones 

 

Most of us want to grow quickly and be done with it. The reality is that genuine growth is slow, and 

to be successful, we should start with small things and do them every day. St. Francis de Sales ad- 

vised, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in 

considering your own imperfections, but instantly start remedying them—every day begin the task 

anew.” 

 

How far are you from “Who You Wish to Be”? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

People’s lives change when they change something they do every day. That’s how they change 

“who they wish to be” into “who they really are.” What kinds of things can you do every day? You 

can have the courage to be positive as you get up in the morning to face the day. You can have the 

courage to be gracious in defeat. You can have the courage to apologize when you hurt someone or 

make a mistake. You can have the courage to try something new—any small thing. Each time you 

display bravery of any kind, you make an investment in your courage. Do that long enough, and you 

will begin to live a lifestyle of courage. And when the bigger risks come, they will seem much smaller 

to you because you will have become much larger. 

 

What will you do today to move closer to the person you wish to be?

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4. Recognize That a Leadership Position Won’t Give You Courage, but Courage Can Make You a 

Leader 

 

In my years of teaching leadership, I have found many people who believed that if only they could 

receive a title or be given a position, then that would make them a leader. But life doesn’t work that 

way. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remarked, “Being a leader is a lot like being a 

lady. If you have to tell people you are one, you aren’t.” The position doesn’t make the leader; the 

leader makes the position. 

 

In a similar fashion, people should not expect the acquisition of a leadership position to give 

them courage. However, anytime people continually display courage, they will likely become leaders 

because others will look up to them, emulate them, and follow them. 

 

Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, described leadership as “the expression 

of courage that compels people to do the right thing.” 

 

How do the leaders in your organization display courage? 

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How do you display courage to those whom you influence? 

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5. Watch Your Horizons Expand with Each Courageous Act 

 

The life you live will expand or shrink in proportion to the measure of courage you display. Those 

who are willing to take risks, explore their limits, face their shortcomings, and sometimes expe- 

rience defeat will go farther than people who timidly follow the safe and predictable path. Founder 

of Success magazine, Orison Swett Marden, stated it this way: 

 

The moment you resolve to take hold of life with all your might and make the most of yourself at 

any cost, to sacrifice all lesser ambitions to your one great aim, to cut loose from everything that 

interferes with this aim, to stand alone, firm in your purpose, whatever happens, you set in mo- 

tion the divine inner forces the Creator has implanted in you for your own development. Live up 

to your resolve, work at what the Creator meant you to work for the perfecting of His plan, and 

you will be invincible. No power on earth can hold you back from success. 

 

If you want to become a talent-plus person, you must show courage. There is no other way to 

reach your potential. 

 

When I began my leadership career, I was very ineffective as a leader. I believed I had talent. I had 

been able to influence and lead others at every phase of my school career. But when I got out into 

the real world, I fell far short of my expectations. My talent was being tested, and I was falling short. 

My problem was that I wanted to please everybody. Making people happy was the most important 

thing to me. The bottom line was that I lacked the courage to make right but unpopular decisions. 

How did I turn things around? By making small decisions that were difficult. With each one, I 

gained more confidence and more courage, and I began to change. The process took me four years. 

 

At the end of that time, I felt I had learned many valuable lessons, and I wrote the following to 

help me cement what I had learned: 

 

Courageous Leadership Simply Means I’ve Developed: 

1. Convictions that are stronger than my fears. 

2. Vision that is clearer than my doubts. 

3. Spiritual sensitivity that is louder than popular opinion. 

4. Self esteem that is deeper than self protection. 

5. Appreciation for discipline that is greater than my desire for leisure. 

6. Dissatisfaction that is more forceful than the status quo. 

7. Poise that is more unshakeable than panic. 

8. Risk taking that is stronger than safety seeking. 

9. Right actions that are more robust than rationalization. 

10. A desire to see potential reached more than to see people appeased. 

DEVELOP 

 

Plan to develop your courage by doing something uncomfortable or scary once or twice a week 

for two months. Put them on your calendar and to-do list.These actions can be small. You don’t 

have to sky dive or bungee jump, although you can do those kinds of things if you are inclined 

to. The more actions requiring courage that you take, the braver you will become. Your goal is to 

develop a lifestyle of courage. 

 

You don’t have to be great to become a person of courage. You just need to want to reach your 

potential and to be willing to trade what seems good in the moment for what’s best for your poten- 

tial. 


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