a man's hand on a very old American flag“GIVE ME GUTS!”

–Boys on Normandy Beaches, WWII, per military channel–


My husband, Jim, and I are amateur biographers with a special interest in the military and, especially in World War II. Our interest is personal in that he is a retired Captain from the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, with a long history of military service–Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. (In addition, our son served as a UDT–Underwater Demolitions Officer– in the Navy in the late 1990s.) For me, there’s additional relevance because my oldest brother was wounded in the first wave on D-day (and was later recalled to the battle in Korea.)

I watched the American Heroes Channel’s feature on D-day about the landing on the Normandy Beaches recently. It was a powerful depiction of the agony and fear experienced by both the Allies and the Germans as evidenced in their writings and recordings that day. One surviving veteran recorded his feelings on the morning of the invasion. “We were all praying,” he said. “Lord, give me guts!”

The short but deeply graphic prayer stuck with me and stirred up many thoughts and emotions. It gave me even more empathy for what my very much still with us and mentally stellar brother, now going on 96, must have gone through. Another thought, however, that kept going through my mind was about leadership.

Isn’t that prayer, “Give me guts!” the essence of what all leaders are looking for, if perhaps not in those words?

Guts are a powerful, apt synonym for courage, hutzpah, bravery, daring, valor and just plain nerve. All of those are essential for a leader to take the required risks and leaps of faith that will drive his or her “troops” toward the mission.

Well, you might argue, leading an organization is hardly comparable to war. Fair enough. Organizational leadership may not be life threatening, but the threats a leader faces are daunting, nevertheless.

Aren’t leaders battling for their careers, their livelihood, the company’s mission and their self-respect? If guts aren’t required for risk-taking, admitting mistakes, and looking in the mirror to see how we need to change then why are those actions so difficult?

If I had to pick one venue where guts are needed the most for leaders, it would be when looking in the mirror and managing one’s emotions. I’m not the first one to say so, however. This from that great philosopher, Tiger Woods:

“I think the guys who are really controlling their emotions…are going to win.”

If he had just applied that beyond golf, he might have become an immortal leader!

Woods isn’t the first either. Over 2000 years ago, Plato, one of the greatest philosophers of all—and a person with a few more scruples–said it this way:

“The first and best victory is to conquer self.”

Now that takes real guts. 
Something to think about this Veteran’s Day when we salute those courageous leaders to whom we owe our freedom.