Leadership Thoughts From Colin Powell

A couple of weeks ago, I attended The Premier Business Leadership Series in Orlando which was hosted by SAS. It was a pretty interesting agenda. The first speaker was General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.). I’ve seen Powell speak in the past and once again really enjoyed listening to his remarks.

Powell shared his take on leadership: “Give followers missions and goals and make sure their individual missions are consistent with the overall mission.” He highlighted a number of attributes of good leaders:

  • Passion
  • Selflessness
  • Ethics
  • Character
  • Moral courage
  • Take care of the troops, give them what they need to succeed

Powell also discussed the importance of recognizing people who are doing a great job. He sends a lot of handwritten thank-you notes. But he also said that you need to be prepared to discipline people as well. If it’s not working, then you need to “move, retrain, or fire” the people.

Powell talked about how he updated the technology across the US State Department. He shared his realization that technology wasn’t enough; he needed to change what he called the “Brainware.” He had to persuade State Department employees to use the tools and the knowledge and stop doing things the way that they were doing them in the past.

I loved this quote from Powell: “If you want to win the battle, then you need to get inside of the decision cycle of your enemy.” He emphasized getting good data and developing contingency plans. His advice: If something doesn’t work, change it. If it works, then exploit it further.

Another quote I liked was this one that he attributed to President Ronald Reagan: “Hard work never hurt anyone, but why take a chance.” Powell shared other stories about President Reagan, who he clearly admired.

Powell was very upbeat about the US, which he described as “the nation of nations, inspirational to the rest of the world.” But Powell was not as favorable about the US government; he chastised congress for not being able to compromise. He explained that the founding fathers were deeply divided on how to handle slavery, but they put those differences aside and figured out how to draw up the constitution.

The bottom line: General Powell is a very wise person.

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I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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