Editor’s note: Eric Jackson’s column appears on Tuesdays.I had the tremendous privilege the other day to hear former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev speak at Guilford College on global leadership. Better yet, I even got to shake his hand and exchange a couple words with him at the reception preceding his lecture.

I will drop my suave, sophisticated exterior for just a moment to admit: this was a huge thrill for me.

I have the deepest respect for Gorbachev and, as I recalled during that recent evening, I like him too, and have ever since the mid-1980s. He manages to integrate an engaging personal style, real analytic ability, deep thoughtfulness, and great passion — a truly rare combination.

Gorbachev is a leader by his own definition: one who confronts reality, focuses on what actually faces him, rather than what he feels it ought to be, and acts, realistically and compassionately, on that reality. He is a leader as well in inspiring people with a vision of a world that is different and better than it is at a given moment. His leadership was instrumental in changing the world, and he continues to strive to bring changes for the better.

And, of course, the world recognizes his achievements and honors him for them.

Not so his own country, however.

When he attempted a comeback in the 1996 presidential election, Gorbachev was overwhelmingly rejected, polling only half a percent of the vote compared to roughly a third each garnered by Yeltsin and Zyuganov. Emotions toward him in Russia range from scorn to downright hatred. To some, he is the destroyer of a world superpower and respected empire. To others, he committed the unforgivable crime of weakness by striving for disarmament, withdrawing from Afghanistan, releasing the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe, and appeasing the evil empire, the USA.

I believe that this antagonism toward Gorbachev and his fall from power was essentially inevitable. In facing reality, admitting it and acting on it, he made his country face that reality and had to be sacrificed for doing it.

So what does this have to do with us?

While most of us in leadership roles, whether in business or any other realm, are probably not in a position to transform the global political landscape, we nevertheless face challenges that are similar in significant ways to those with which a world leader like Gorbachev contends. True leadership is about more than charisma or passion or strong beliefs. It is principally about facing reality with honesty, taking action with courage, and interpreting both the reality and the action for those you are trying to lead.

That courage part is not to be glossed over. You may not risk life and limb in most situations, but you certainly always risk rejection and the possibility that, in doing the right thing, in leading an organization to change in the face of a changing world, you will become the target for the fear and resentment that the change brings out.

This is, of course, a major reason why true leadership is uncommon. Leadership success and the measure of a leader’s importance require looking beyond the categories of popularity and personal success. This is obviously difficult for an individual to do, but even in our collective picture of leadership we strongly prefer to focus on the positive, to see good leadership as rewarded, even measured by the respect and enthusiasm of the followers.

It is wonderful when it comes out that way, but real leadership requires a broader vision of success.

Ideas? Suggestions? Contact Eric at eric@deepweave.com

Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.