The Truth About Leadership

There is an old military saying, “No guts, no glory,” which rightfully implies that without taking some risks, putting yourself out there, and working hard, you can’t achieve success. But when it comes to leadership, I offer you a different take on that quote. Instead, I’d argue that good leadership is “all guts, no glory.”

All Guts

Good leaders have to make the tough decisions. The top of the heap is also the end of the line, and often making those decisions, whether they are risky or unpopular, comes down to the leader. Leaders have to make the decisions that are right for their organization, even if they are hard. Often they take criticism for these decisions from those who don’t recognize the broader strategy or who can’t yet see the long-term benefits. It is not a role for the thinned skin, as often when times are challenging or when change is required, the leader is the first to take the brunt. When then CEO, Lou Gerstner, reinvented IBM in the 90s, he was often told by colleagues that his plans would never work. Yet, ten years later when he retired, IBM was back to its position of industry leadership. But that’s what good leaders do. They stand up for what’s right, not easy. They take responsibility for their decisions, and they guide their organizations toward the future. Leadership is about guts.

No Glory

As legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul Bear Bryant, once said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Good leaders aren’t in it for the glory; they are in it for the win. Good leaders know that leadership is about empowering those around you; it’s about getting your employees to be their best and to achieve great things. It’s not about credit. If a leader has done her job, she should be able to walk away and have everything run just as smoothly as when she was there.  Good leaders recognize their employees’ work, because they understand that those results are a reflection of themselves. Leadership is not about glory.

So while we may often portray positions of leadership as merely positions of status, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the status. Good leaders must be tough enough to make hard decisions, to own those decisions, and to stand by them even in the face of criticism, because good leaders do what is necessary, not what is popular. And while we may think leadership is about getting praise and admiration, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the credit. Instead, good leaders focus on the success of those around them. They recognize the hard work of their employees and praise them for their achievements. So if you want to become a leader someday, don’t do it for the glory, do it because you have the guts.


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