Skill, Luck or Character?


What separates the very best from the rest? What do truly successful people have that others don’t? What is it that allows them to be continually successful in whatever they do?

Is it their skills?

Are they more skilful than others? For example, are the most skilful sports people the ones that achieve long term success?

Is it their knowledge?

Do successful people simply know things that others don’t? Do they know more? Have they got crucial information that others are missing?

Is it their intelligence?

Are they smarter? Do successful people have a higher IQ?


When you look at those around you, what do you see? What seems to differentiate those who are able to achieve sustained success?

Jeff Sandefer set out to discover what made entrepreneurs successful. He took a dozen successful, self-made, business leaders each with a net worth of over $25M, to find out what had the greatest influence on their success; skill, luck or character. Interestingly, although they recognised that both skill and luck were important, they concluded that both were underpinned by character.

The entrepreneurs said…

“It helps to be born with an engaging personality”, but qualified that by saying, “But that’s no substitute for knocking on door after door, and when you get turned down, having the courage to knock again”.

“Character trumps skill”

“Perseverance is far more important than skill or talent. You have to have the mind-set that never gives up, no matter how tough it gets. A little talent and a lot of hard work are the foundation for learning any skill, and are far more important in the long run”.

One entrepreneur quotes Calvin Coolidge by saying, “Nothing in this world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not; there is nothing more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race”.

“Mastering a skill requires dedication, so character has to come before talent”.

“You can be the luckiest person on earth, but if luck comes to someone who is unprepared or lacking in character… nothing good ever comes of it”.


It seems that this thinking extends beyond entrepreneurs. Paul Stoltz surveyed 10,000 employers across the United States, to find out what personal attributes they prize most highly. He asked them who they would prefer to recruit, and gave them two choices. The first was a person with the perfect skill set and qualifications. The second was a person with the right character. Incredibly, 98 percent of the 10,000 employers surveyed chose option two; the person with the right character. The employers described ‘the right character’ by using words such as ‘resilience’ and ‘grit’. Interestingly, Stoltz and his team then asked the employers how many ‘normal’ employees they would trade for just one who had the desired mind-set. Incredibly, the answer was 7.3. When asked how many ‘normal leaders’ they would trade for a leader with the right mind-set, this figure rose to 8.4.


Many leaders would add personal qualities such as honesty, trustworthiness and courage to the list. I’d argue that characteristics such as these underpin our decisions, how we work, our level of professionalism, our performance and therefore our results. 

So, how can you ensure that you have people with the character that you need? Is it a matter of luck? Can character be developed? How could we actually develop character, so that we had more people with ‘the right character’?


To find out more read “How To Develop Character; Beyond Skills, Knowledge & Personality” 



Hartley, S.R. (2015) How To Develop Character; Beyond Skills, Knowledge and Personality, Wetherby: Be World Class.

Sandefer, J. (2010) Are Successful Entrepreneurs Born Or Made?; Is The Secret To Success Skill, Character or Luck?, Austin, TX: Action Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

Stoltz, P. (2015) GRIT: The New Science of What It Takes to Persevere, Flourish, Succeed. San Luis Obispo, CA: Climb Strong Press.