Classic Leadership Wisdom from *True Grit*

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”

So begins True Grit, a novel by Charles Portis that was turned into two films and has been described as an American masterpiece. The book’s heroine and narrator is Mattie Ross, a teenage girl with exceptional courage, vision, and perseverance.

True Grit is a font of leadership wisdom, served up with plenty of humor. Take this passage, in which Mattie is seeking a U.S. marshal to help her bring her father’s killer to justice. The sheriff puts forth three possibilities and strongly recommends one. Mattie listens to his advice and makes her choice with assurance.


“Who is the best marshal they have?” [I asked].

The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, “I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker … it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don’t enter his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake … Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.”

I said, “Where can I find this Rooster?”

–Charles Portis, True Grit, 1968

About Jocelyn R Davis

Jocelyn Davis is Principal of Seven Learning, a leadership development firm that creates a lasting lift in leaders' effectiveness using classic books, films, and stories.
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