Park Perspectives: Sowing seeds for courage

Developing courage as a daily habit

By: Valerie Hanke, Two-Year MBA ‘23
Valerie and High Tech Club pose in front of HTC election results

Valerie was elected to the High Tech Club Board at the end of the first semester

This article talks about Courage, one of Johnson’s four Cs of leadership. Read more about the 4Cs Leadership Framework here.

When you start an MBA, you’ll find yourself in a completely new setting, surrounded by people that don’t know you. It can be intimidating. But it can also be an opportunity to grow beyond your old self, and to test your limits. I’m convinced your time at business school is the perfect environment to practice courage.

Courage and integrity

There are two aspects of courage. First, courage is active. It requires you to do something. Second, courage is driven by conviction – it’s about doing what is right versus what is easy. In short: It’s always easiest to do nothing, and it takes courage to do the right thing.

It also takes courage to do any “thing” that is outside your comfort zone. In business school, this could mean running for a club board member position or participating in a case competition. It can also mean questioning why not more cases we cover in class deal with issues of race, or why the school takes so long to take a stance on global issues. All of these examples are things I have witnessed at Johnson – and I’m proud that our school welcomes and encourages this dialogue.

Not just in business school, but in all settings: it’s courageous to ask a question, to admit you don’t know something, or that you are wrong.

Courage can be hard. But it is easier with practice, and it’s easier in a “safe space” like your Johnson MBA. And the good news is that the courage you develop at Johnson will serve you well far beyond your time at Johnson. You can think about courage like a skill, or a muscle, that you can train and build over time. So: Go for it!

Going for it

This is easier said than done. We all have habits, and these inherently exist in our comfort zones. If you don’t have a habit of being courageous, you will need to actively change something. So, how can we grow our courage? Here are five things that work for me.

  1. Visualize success. Think about situations where you can be courageous: standing up for what is right, or stepping outside your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. Then picture yourself doing it. Just by imagining it, you can feel how empowering it is. By doing it more often, you start to internalize it. My personal tip: listen to music that puts you in the right space and mindset while you do this. My go-to is “unstoppable” by Sia. I’m actually listening to it right now.
  2. Set goals. If you’re a very goal-oriented person like me, this will be great for you. By writing down a deliberate goal, you can nudge yourself to be more courageous, and you can keep yourself more accountable. For tips about how to formulate goals, google “SMART” goals, which is a framework they also teach at Johnson.
  3. Practice with low stakes. Courage is not a binary; you can have more or less courage. Practice courage by starting with things that are more “low stakes”, like sitting down at a table with people you don’t know and introducing yourself. Then work yourself up to bigger things, like giving a speech in front of a large group of people. What exactly is “high” or “low” stakes will differ from person to person, so decide what works best for you. For all the past and future consultants: these are your quick wins.
  4. Practice optimism. Optimism is a superpower. If you think everything will go well, it just might. Some say this is naïve (and I have been called naïve), but the important thing to remember is that you can only lose by not trying at all. Just in doing something, you are gaining something – no matter the outcome. You’ll also notice that – even if you fail – you will still feel empowered for having tried, and you will grow from it.
  5. Find your people. You don’t have to do all of this alone. Find people who will support you, cheer for you, celebrate you, and help you up after falling down. You will find a lot of these people at Johnson, and I encourage you to put your guard down to let them in.


Whether you’re an incoming student, a prospective student, or somebody completely different (in which case: extra thank you for reading this), I hope you’ll take something away from this article. I hope you recognize how important it is for you as a (future) leader to demonstrate courage, and I hope you can apply some of these tips to strengthen your courage down the road. Your only limit is your mind – just try it and you’ll see.


Valerie Hanke

Valerie Hanke, Two-Year MBA ‘23

Valerie Hanke is a first-year MBA candidate at Johnson. Prior to business school, she worked in marketing and communications, where she translated client insights and business priorities into actionable strategies. Valerie holds a BA in political science and economics from McGill University and received her MA in political science from the University of Konstanz in Germany.