Retired Marine Colonel and CEO: ‘Leading Is Not For the Weak’

Leadership is about integrity of service and the ability to influence others with a compelling vision that incites action. Col. John Boggs, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) knows this all too well and has built an extraordinary living legacy on this premise. He is an author, speaker, and leadership and strategy development expert. An infantry officer with over 30 years of service to the nation, Boggs is one of the rare few to command at every rank.

(Col. John Boggs. Image: WordSmithRapport Advisory Board)

Among his many accolades, he has served as chief of staff of the National Defense University in Washington D.C.—the world’s leading institute for producing strategic leaders—and served as a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. As a businessman and CEO of Fortitude Consulting, Boggs provides leadership development for individuals and organizations that are diverse in size and complexity.

Black Enterprise caught up with the colonel to talk all things leadership and fortitude.

How would you characterize the connection between leadership and fortitude?

Great leadership requires fortitude! Fortitude is the inner strength one displays in the face of pain or adversity. It is having true courage. A leader—a great leader—must be able to face the pain of criticism and do what is right because it is right.

There is an overwhelming example of leaders without fortitude today. When being challenged by adversity they often default to the “wisdom” of the crowd, the loudest voices, or decide to put themselves first. Great leaders need fortitude to face not just physical danger, but also to grapple with stinging criticism and do what is right. Without question, leading is not for the weak.

The Marine Corps cemented in me the idea of servant leadership and mission accomplishment.

(Boggs teaching a leadership workshop. Image: Facebook/Fortitude Consulting LLC)


Rule one for a leader is to accomplish the mission; in civil society and in business that means producing the expected results. Leaders do not accomplish the mission or produce results on their own. Leaders accomplish them through the people they lead.

You learn quickly in the Marine Corps to take care of your Marines. You keep them well-informed and care for their welfare. You are their exemplar worthy of emulation. You take care of their needs before you take care of your own. You do the hard things first. Marines don’t follow you in dangerous places to do dangerous things because you said so. It is because they believe in you and trust you. It is no different in business. The best leaders, those that always exceed their goals, tend to be great servant leaders.

In your opinion, can fortitude be developed over time? If so, how? 

What a great question! There is no such thing as a born leader. We all have to learn. Fortitude speaks to a person’s inner character, their willingness to do what is right in the face of adversity. When one learns how to lead, that inner courage can grow. So, yes, fortitude can be developed.

The danger is to believe you suddenly know how to lead because you were promoted. There is no “leadership fairy dust.” One may have been successful at the director level and a complete failure at the vice president level. The leadership responsibilities are different as a person continues up the leadership ladder. In my experience, I find this situation most common in the C-suite.

Can you share a time in your life when your credibility as a leader was challenged?

I worked with a client, a senior executive, who challenged me quite often. The client was caustic to peers and employees in general. He felt that he was in charge and therefore everyone had to do what he said. He did not buy into the idea of being an exemplar much less being a servant leader.

Over time, he came around. He wanted to be successful. Just making margins was a struggle. Once he caught on to the impact of leading with fortitude and the importance of being an exemplar, he began to realize dramatic success.

What is your best advice to an aspiring leader, regardless of industry?

Leading requires fortitude. Leading is not for wimps. It requires being a servant and a good example for others to follow. Anyone can learn to lead. When you are presented with a leadership opportunity, do not take it lightly. Get a coach, and get a mentor to assure that you can maximize your potential to do well.