10 Things Colin Powell Taught Me

I had the priviledge of attending the Global Leadership Summit shown via satelite here in Portland. It was two days filled with cutting edge research and approaches on leadership. Colin Powell was one of the first to speak and as he was introduced, I was stuck by how the host spoke of his upbringing and his relationships. General Powell was struck as well. He mentioned how meaningful it was to him that he would be introduced for who he was, not what he had accomplished.

In his interview he shared that he is often asked what year he graduated from West Point. He always laughs at this and answers that he graduated from public school in the South Bronx. West Point was not an option in his family, and with mediocre grades, he doubted he would have been accepted. I had expected him to talk about leadership within military, and share steps, achievements, and moving “up” in rank. Instead he spoke of the kind of leadership that people follow because they are inspired to, not because they have to. Here are some of the things I leared from his approach to leadership:

1. Everyone has value. [...] You have great people underneath you and you have to empower them.”

2. “When people are doing something good, recognize it. [...] A human connection is more important than anything else you can give them.”

3. “Share credit. [...] Let all employees believe they were the ones who did it. They were.”

4. “Remain calm. Be kind. [...] Kindness connects you with other human beings in a bond of mutual respect. If you care for your followers and show them kindness, they will reciprocate and care for you.”

5. Racism was not important to him. He did not care so much about why he got the opportunities he did. What mattered to him was what he DID with the opportunities he was offered.

6. “Things will look better in the morning.” Something he often said to his soldiers when things were difficult. He was clear to share that this wasn’t a prediction, it was an attitude, a mindset, that things will look differently and solutions will come to light after resting.

7. “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” [...] The decision is not about you or your ego; it is about gathering all the information, analyzing it, and trying to get the right answer.”

8. Promote people on their potential, not their performance. He spoke of great performers who had huge egos (he referenced one team member who seemed to be measuring the drapes of his office every time he came in for his morning report). Focus on promoting people who have potential and the character you are looking for.

9.When there are problems, tell me early.

10. When a leader is not being brought problems, they have a serious problem. Employees either don’t believe you have the ability to solve, or they believe you no longer care. Both are a death sentence.