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Leading From Guts Builds Gutsy Organizations

be fearless“Leading From Guts” drives extraordinary organizations and a company’s distinctive edge in the marketplace.

The inspiration for this article was the movie “The Rosa Parks Story” – a story about a simple seamstress and civil rights activist with unwavering toughness of character that, in 1955, changed the course of history and segregation in the U.S.

Her unwillingness to relinquish her seat on a segregated bus to a white person set in motion a whole chain of catalyzing events – including imprisonment, a boycott of the Montgomery Bus, a new civil rights organization led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a repealing of the segregation law on buses in Montgomery.

This movie – and Rosa Park’s story in general — brought to light the power of “leading from guts,” regardless of one’s role or circumstances in business.

Leading From Guts:  The One Thing That Can Change Everything in Your Organization

For the purposes of this article, I deliberately chose the title Leading From Guts  (rather than Lead With Guts) for a reason.

Leading From Guts implies you already possess the traits and mindset of having guts.  Those traits and mindset make up the core of who you are and how you define yourself as a leader.

Leading With Guts implies that courage is secondary to your leadership role rather than the driving force of how you lead.  While it may sound like a subtle difference, to your employees who seek to follow gutsy leaders, it makes every difference.

Rosa Parks did not lead with guts, she led from guts.  Guts defined how she lived life.  Regardless of the threats on her life, loss of work resulting in lifelong hardship, the ongoing tensions in her marriage, etc., her unstoppable fight for civil rights defined her legacy and her leadership ability to create a movement that altered history.

While your cause may be different as a business leader, the underlying characteristics of leading from guts are the same.  Let’s take a look at those underlying characteristics.

Leaders Who Lead From  Guts …

1.     Are game-changers.  They thrive on doing the “seemingly” impossible.

Rosa Parks fought for a cause no one else thought possible. Even top civil rights activists (including Martin Luther King, Jr.) sought to achieve their goals the “safe” way … to play along with the established segregation rules in Montgomery at the time.  Rosa Parks was not willing to play that game.

Gutsy leaders in today’s business world embody the same spirit as Rosa Parks.  They provoke change by going against outdated norms that prevent them from playing a bigger game and realizing their cause.

  • What small thinking in your company do you need to challenge to change the game in your organization?
  • When was the last time you attempted to do something that seemed impossible?  
  • How will doing so change the game you are playing?

2.     Are crusaders.  They are passionate about their cause and have the guts to act according to their convictions.

With all the injustices that Rosa Parks encountered due to her convictions, she never ran way from conflict, criticism nor condescension.  She stood her ground with composure, sensitivity and a fighting spirit to her cause of civil rights.  Her tenacity to lead from guts resulted in a history-altering movement.

Gutsy leaders know and commit to the driving “cause” of their organization.  For these leaders, their cause transcends goals and plans.  It is visceral.  Their cause becomes an unwavering heroic crusade.  What follows is a evangelistic movement within their organization.

  • What’s the crusade your organization stands for?
  • How do you help your employees see how their work as “heroic” and connected to your greater cause?

3.     Are fearless, despite being fearful. 

Fearless does not mean without fear (despite the dictionary’s definition). In fact, it’s impossible for any human being to be 100% without fear, as our brains are wired for fear for a reason.

Rosa Parks had fears, just as any other human being.  Yet, she transcended those fears because she was so committed to her cause.

Those leaders who lead from guts have the same scary moments and concerns as you do.  Yet they handle fear differently than other leaders.

They recognize that fear presents them with a choice.  Either they can step up to the opportunity or they can back down and let the fear run them.  As leaders choose the former, so will their employees.

  • What gives you the guts as a leader to move beyond your fears?  A well-thought out plan?  Support?  Minimizing risks?
  • If fear were not an option, what new bold actions would you take next?

4.     Are rule-breakers and challenge the status quo. 

Rosa Parks deliberately broke the law, despite knowing she would be arrested for not giving her seat to a white male.  Rosa challenged the status quo, not as an end in itself, but rather to make a statement – in her case, for justice.

In the business world, gutsy leaders are motivated to challenge “business as usual.”   They thrive on operating on the fringes and go against the tide because they know the edge is where breakthroughs reside.

As innovators of their industry, their courage and passion to try new things ignites the spark in others to think big and act boldly.  It takes GUTS and thick skin in a business world of followers to take the road less travelled.

  • As a leader, what can you do to disrupt status quo thinking and encourage new ideas in your organization?  In your industry? 
  • What rules in your organization are obsolete and holding you back?  
  • How can you go against your own tide to breakthrough the barriers of what’s possible?

5.     Are movers and shakers.  They “stir up the pot” intentionally to create a revolution in thinking.

Just from one simple act of not giving her bus seat to a white person, Rosa Parks stirred up the pot in a complacent, compliant Afro-American community.  Her willingness to risk her life “stirred up the emotional pot” and one by one the community stood united in boycotting the Montgomery busses for an entire year.

Gutsy leaders agitate the thinking in their organizations and industries on purpose They know that complacency, routine and mediocrity are deadly to any company’s future growth and innovation.

They stir the pot to reinvigorate creative thinking, raise the bar and prime their organization for serious growth and market leadership.

  • To what extent has complacency, routine and/or mediocrity stagnated the innovation and growth of your organization? 
  • How can you intentionally stir up thinking by focusing on opportunity-driven change rather than merely putting out the fires?

6.     Are warriors.  They go the distance no matter what.

Despite her quiet voice and modest manners, Rosa Parks had the moral toughness and mental courage of a true warrior – a human rights warrior.  Her rebellious spirit and dissatisfaction with the Southern way of life sparked a movement for change in the U.S. and beyond.

Those who lead from guts have a will to win for the sake of their cause.  They don’t just want to win; they fight for it.  Yet they understand that change threatens those who value safety at all costs.

A leader’s warrior spirit must overcome the resistance and inertia amongst the troops within their organization – their employees.  Not by force, but through their own belief, passion and confidence backed by actions.

  • As a leader, are you willing to fight for your convictions no matter what?
  • What resistance must you overcome along the way within yourself?  Within your employees?
  • What inner resources must you tap into, to strengthen your will to win?

7.     Are sure-fire decision-makers.  They put their stake in the ground and charge forward with confidence.

Rosa Parks made tough steadfast decisions, even when challenged by authority figures, friends/families and community leaders.  Yet it was her decisiveness that eventually won over others to her cause.

When it comes to decision making, gutsy leaders are a rare breed.  They have developed the chops to make real-time tough decisions with imperfect information and confidently move forward as though their decisions will prove to be correct.

Many business leaders falter in this area.  They fear putting their stake in the ground and keep waiting for more information, without realizing that delay is costly to their organization.

  • In your own decision making, how much information is enough  to put your stake in the ground and move on?
  • How do you sort for the most important data and filter out the rest to strengthen your decision making muscle?
  • What lessons have you learned from past decisions to be better in the future?

Leading from guts starts with believing that you can make a difference, then having the guts to take action based on that conviction.

Even an ordinary individual, like Rosa Parks, demonstrated that courage, tenacity and conviction inspires others to boldly step up and become a part of your bigger cause.  Her life reminds us that a single person can make a profound difference of unimaginable magnitude and change the course of events forever.

What choice will you make?  Will you lead from guts or will you let fear lead you?


Other Related Links

How To Rise To the Top of Your Leadership Game Through Emotional Mastery

Be Rigorous About Your Fears … Otherwise They Will Drive Your Company into the Ground


Denise Corcoran – CEO, The Empowered BusinessTM – helps growth-seeking companies develop game-changing leadership teams and organizations that drive and sustain profitable growth by design.   Denise can be reached at or


Denise Corcoran works with CEOs and executive teams seeking rapid growth yet are challenged by the “invisible barriers” that keep them stuck, overwhelmed or in crisis mode. Her company —The Empowered Business — is one of the few companies providing whole brain, strategic solutions for unleashing leadership and organizational potential. Her secret sauce is assisting CEOs and executive teams develop the “X factor” – i.e., the mindset, attitudes and game-changing thinking -- that drives double and triple digit growth … by design.


Posted by Denise Corcoran on February 4, 2014 in Fast Growth, Leadership Development, Leadership Performance, Mindset, Organizational Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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