Old Fashioned “Gumption” . . .

“Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it.”   -Lucy Maude Montgomery

I like the word, GUMPTION!  It’s an old fashioned word, probably of Scottish origin (or so the Dictionary states) and not used much anymore.  Gumption is defined as:

gump·tion  [guhmp-shuhn]  
noun Informal .
1.   initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness: (“With his gumption he’ll make a success of himself.”)
2.  courage; spunk; guts:  (“It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job>”)
3.  common sense; shrewdness.

I think I like the word Gumption because it displays power and force even when you say it.  It explodes from one’s lips.  It’s hard to whisper the word.  Gumption carries its own explosive charge both in tone and meaning.  I also like this word because it implies a combination of tenacity, courage, common sense and positivity all rolled into one.  Definitely a word I would associate with some of the better traits of leaders and leadership.

I believe, especially in today’s world of sound bytes and factual bits, gumption in leadership has been more or less replaced by cleverness, glibness, big talking, and brashness.  Notice that none of these words are in the definition of Gumption.  If I could be allowed to make a bold statement, and one in which I believe after my 35 years of working with CEOs and senior executive teams, then it would be this:

There ain’t enough gumption in leaders today!

The western town marshall trying to clean up a lawless town had gumption.  The back-peddling CEO (former) of BP durning the Gulf oil rig disaster, Tony Hayward, didn’t.

Old fashioned leadership gumption tells it like it is; pushes politics to the back burner and gets on with the agenda no matter what; is direct and fair; demands accountability and gives loyalty; speaks softly and delivers big; praises initiative and boots out the risk-averse.

Anyone know a quick and easy test for “gumption“?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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2 Responses to Old Fashioned “Gumption” . . .

  1. Steve Borek says:

    Gumption is doing what everyone else knows needs to be started, finished, said, etc. It’s having the balls to take action without asking.

    Most are tentative. I use to be one. After a while, you’re tired of status quo. Though most, like my past self, are afraid to speak up, stand up, lead up, in fear of looking stupid or receiving backlash.

    Many years ago I finally came to realization, someone has to take a stand. Might as well be me.

    Do you remember what Lou Grant said to Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when being interviewed for a job?

    Lou: “You’ve got spunk!”
    Mary: “Well, yes….”
    Lou: “I hate spunk!”

    John, you’ve got spunk and I like it.


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