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.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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