Jun 02

Insights and Life Lessons from General Colin Powell

The other day, I had a chance to watch Colin Powell interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel regarding Powell’s new book, It Worked for Me. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and former Secretary of State shared stories and insights from his time in the Army, serving four presidential administrations, and from his childhood growing up in the Bronx. From warrior to statesman to founding chair of America’s Promise Alliance, General Powell provided his candid take on the people and events that helped shape who he is today.

Here are just a few excerpts from General Powell’s new book which may strike a chord with senior military leaders in transition:

  • I do not like to see an atmosphere of fear in an organization, where shouting, screaming, and abuse of subordinates are common. I have worked in fear- and abuse-filled organizations and have seen a lot more. Their leaders were at bottom insecure bullies who substituted Sturm und Drang for leadership. I have never known any leader who got the best out of his people that way.
  • I am pretty good at knowing and analyzing my strengths and weaknesses; but I keep the latter private…Self-examination is tough and worse when your family and friends join in. I am so glad that 360-degree evaluations came into vogue long after I stopped being evaluated. During the process, your ego is vulnerable, your self-respect challenged, your decisions questioned, and your fallibility made manifest. Still, such examination is essential to improving yourself, getting in better touch with the people in your life, facing your demons, and moving on. Looking deeply into a mirror and seeing an accurate reflection is therapeutic and healthy.
  • Over the years I’ve run into people who don’t realize a station is waiting for them or who believe they have an unlimited-mileage ticket. Four-star generals with distinguished thirty-five-year careers have come into my office whining and pleading not to have to get off…as if they were entitled to stay on.
  • No matter what your job, you are there to serve. It makes no difference if it is government, military, business or any other endeavor. Go in with a commitment to selfless service, never selfish service…get off the train before somebody throws you off, go sit in the shade with a drink, and take a look at the other tracks and trains out there. Spend a moment watching the old train disappear, then start a new journey on a new train.




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