[September 05, 2014] Colin Powell is one of America’s most respected and esteemed public figures. He was one of the U.S. Army’s most senior generals and was also U.S. Secretary of State. Being successful at both is an admiral accomplishment.
Choosing Colin Powell for this leadership profile was easy; writing about his leadership style was something more difficult. I never served with him, so I have no personal insight. Most published material is what he has written on leadership. There is not much of a direct description of his leadership characteristics to be found. I’ll begin with a quote from a general who gave Powell advice as a new lieutenant. Second Lieutenant Powell asked the general how to become a general. Here is the advice.
“Son, you’ve got to work like a dog. You’ve got to have moral and physical courage. There may be days you’re tired, but you must never show fatigue. You’ll be afraid, but you can never show fear. You must always be the leader.” Powell, the young officer was so excited by this advice. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “so is this how I become a general?” “No,” said the general, “that’s how you become a first lieutenant, and then you keep doing it over and over and over.”
What were the key leader traits of Colin Powell that a recited for his success as a senior leader?
- Visionary and Strategist
- Hard Worker and Focused Mind
- Deep Commitment to People
- Recognizes and Forges Alliances
- Understands what Motivates People
- High moral character
- Moral Courage
Colin Powell is as different a senior leader as all the others profiled here. Yet, many of his leadership traits are similar to the others. His accomplishments will be studied for decades to come but he will be most remembered for his contributions to the U.S. military.
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Colin Powell’s 13 Rules to Leadership. They help our understanding of him. Oh, I’ve known these for years and they certainly helped me and many other leaders: 1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. 2. Get mad, then get over it. 3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it. 4. It can be done! 5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it. 6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. 8. Check small things. 9. Share credit. 10. Remain calm. Be kind. 11. Have a vision. Be demanding. 12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers. 13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.