Unhappy? Solving Problems, Experts? Challenge, Details, Permission, Organization? Ego, Fads, Optimism, Simplifiers, 70-40 Rule, Have Fun, Lonely at the top.
BIO: Colin Powell (born 5 April 1937) was an American statesman and a retired (4) four-star General in the US Army. He was the 65th US Secretary of State, serving under President George W Bush from 2001 to 2005 – the first African American to serve in that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Persian Gulf War. He was the first – and so far the only – African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was the first African American office-holders to hold the key Administration position of U.S. Secretary of State. He died Mon 18 Oct 21 of Cancer & Covid at age 84.
“Good Leadership is solving tuff problems !!!
“Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously – but not themselves, those who work & play hard”.
“You don’t know what you can get away with until you try. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission”.
“Dig up enough informaton to make a good Decision, then finally – go with your instincts.”
” Seek people who have some balance in their lives, who are fun to work with, who like to laugh (at themselves, too) and you’ll enjoy life more”.
“Befriend those who have some non-job priorities (ie, family & friends) which they approach with the same passion that they do their work.
“I have always tried to keep my confidence & optimism up, no matter how difficult the situation was.”
“I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.”
“With my Team, the ties that bind us are stronger than the occasional stresses that separate us.”
“Spare me the grim workaholic or the pompous pretentious “professional”; I’ll help them find jobs with my competitor.
“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier !!!”
Lesson 1: Good leaders sometimes make people unhappy.
Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group – which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable – if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards – based on differential performance, because some people might get upset. Ironically, procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative & productive people in the organization.
Lesson 2: “The day your Team stops bringing you their problems, is the day you have stopped leading them.
They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of a relationship“. If this were a test, the majority of CEOs would fail. 1) they build so many barriers to upward communication that the very idea of someone lower in the hierarchy looking up to the leader for help is ludicrous. 2) the corporate culture they foster often defines asking for help as weakness or failure, so people cover up their gaps, and the organization suffers accordingly. Real leaders make themselves accessible & available. They show concern for the efforts and challenges faced by their team – even as they demand high standards. Accordingly, they are more likely to create an environment where problem analysis replaces blame.
Lesson 3: “Don’t be intimidated by Experts & Influencers.
Experts often possess more data than judgment. The elites Influencers can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.” Small companies & startups don’t have time for analytically detached experts. They don’t have the money to subsidize lofty elites, either. The CEO answers the phone and drives the truck when necessary; everyone on the payroll visibly contributes to the bottom-line results or they’re history. But as companies get bigger, they often forget who “brought them to the dance“: things like all-hands involvement, egalitarianism, informality, market intimacy, daring, risk, speed, agility, etc. Policies that emanate from ivory towers often have an adverse impact on the people out in the field who are fighting the wars or bringing in the revenues. Real leaders are vigilant & combative-in the face of these trends.
Lesson 4: ” Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.”
Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors & partners (ie, co-founders), but remember that – even the pros may have leveled out their knowledge – in terms of their learning & skills. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent & lazy. Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Xerox’s Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a Yes-man working for you – one of you is redundant. Good leadership encourages everyone’s evolution.
Lesson 5: “Never neglect details, because the Devil is in the details.
When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be extra vigilant.” Strategy equals execution. All great ideas & visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly & efficiently. Good leaders delegate & empower others liberally, but they also pay attention to the details every day. (Think about great athletic coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Pat Riley and Tony La Russa). Bad ones – even those who fancy themselves as progressive “visionaries” – think they’re somehow “above” operational details. “Paradoxically, good leaders understand something else: An obsessive routine in carrying out the details begets conformity & complacency, which in turn – dulls everyone’s mind. That is why even as they pay attention to details, they continually encourage people to challenge the process. They implicitly understand the sentiment of CEO-Leaders.
Lesson 6: “You don’t know what you can get away with – until you try.”
“It’s easier to get forgiveness, than permission.” It’s true. Good leaders don’t wait for official blessing to try things out. They’re prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: If you ask enough people for permission, you’ll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say “no“. So the moral is, don’t ask !!! I’m serious. In my own research with my colleague, we found that – less effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, “If I haven’t been told ‘yes’, I can’t do it,” whereas the good ones believed, “If I haven’t been explicitly told ‘No’ I can do it.” There’s a world of difference between these two points of view.
Lesson 7: “Keep looking for – “below surface” appearances.
Don’t shrink from doing so, just) because you might not like what you find. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It’s a mind-set that assumes (or hopes) that today’s realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear & predictable fashion. Pure fantasy !!! In this sort of culture, you won’t find people who proactively take steps to solve problems as they emerge. Here’s a little tip: Don’t invest in these companies !!!
Lesson 8: ” Organization doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything.
Some plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management sometimes don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.” In a intelligent-based economy, your best assets are people. We’ve heard this expression so often that it’s become trite. But how many leaders really “walk the talk” with this stuff? Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by the grand players, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal making, restructuring & the latest management fad. How many immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are attracted, retained and – most importantly – unleashed.
Lesson 9: “Organization Charts & fancy Titles sometimes are insignificant”.
Organization charts are sometimes an outdated graphic in a workplace that is as dynamic as the external environment around it. In well-run organizations, Titles are also sometimes meaningless. At best, they are the original authority of the ability to give orders or induce obedience. But Titles sometimes mean little in terms of real power – which is the capacity to influence & inspire. Have you ever noticed that people will personally commit to certain individuals who on paper (or on that Org. chart) possess little authority – but instead possess pizzazz, drive, expertise & genuine caring for teammates & customers?
Lesson 10: “Never let your Ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your Ego goes with it.”
Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar territory & job descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won’t challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills & go for new responsibilities, thus – not perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, “How well did you perform your job, since the last time we reviewed?” but, “How much did you change it?”
Lesson 11: “Fit no Stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest Management fads.
The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.” Fitting from fad to fad creates team confusion, reduces the leader’s credibility and drains organizational coffers.Blindly following a particular fad generates rigidity in thought and action. Sometimes speed to market is more important than total quality. Sometimes an un-apologetic directive is more appropriate than participatory discussion. To quote Powell: “Some situations require long, loose leashes. Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them. They understand that management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.”
Lesson 12: “Perpetual optimism is a Force Multiplier.”
The ripple effect of a leader’s enthusiasm & optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism & pessimism. Leaders who whine & blame cause those same behaviors among their colleagues. I am not talking about calmly accepting organizational stupidity & performance incompetence with a “What, me worry?” smile. I am talking about a “gung-ho” attitude that says “We can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best.” Spare me the grim broken record of the “realist”, give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.
Lesson 13: “Powell’s Rules for Pickling People”
Look for intelligence & judgment + most critically – a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.” How often do our recruitment and hiring processes tap into these attributes? More often than not, we ignore them in favor of length of experience, degrees & prior titles. A string of jobs a recruit held yesterday seem to be more important than who one is today, what s/he can contribute tomorrow or how well s/he values are compatible with those of the organization. You can train a bright, willing novice in the fundamentals of your business fairly readily, but it’s a lot harder to train someone to have integrity, judgment, energy, balance & the drive to get things done.
Lesson 14:”Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut thru argument, debate & doubt – to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
Effective leaders understand the KISSS principle, Keep it Simple, Short & Smart. They articulate vivid comprehensive goals & values, which they use to drive daily behaviors & choices among competing alternatives. Their visions & priorities are compelling, not cluttered and buzzword-laden. Their decisions are crisp & clear, not tentative & ambiguous. They convey an unwavering firmness & consistency in their actions, aligned with the picture of the future they paint. The result? Clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership, & integrity in organizations.
Lesson 15: the 70-40 Principle
Part I: “the Probability of success = 70% or more, if 40% of the information is acquired.”
Part II: “Once the info is at least 40%, go with your gut (feelings).”
Powell’s advice is don’t take action if you have only enough info to give you less than a 40% chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100% sure, because by then, it is almost always too late. This is similar to the 80-20 rule. (The numbers have been changed to protect the guilty. LoL) Powell’s instinct is right:”Today, excessive delays in the name of info-gathering breeds”analysis paralysis“. Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.
Lesson 16: “The Commander in the field is always right & the Rear Echelon is wrong – unless proven otherwise !!! ”
Too often the reverse defines corp culture. This is one of the main reasons why some leaders have kept their corporate staffs to bare-bones minimum. (And I do mean minimum. How about fewer than 100 corp staffers for global 30 million workers? Or around 25 & 30 for multi-billion Tesla & Virgin respectively?) Shift the power and the financial accountability to the folks who are bringing in the bacon – not the ones who are counting beans or analyzing them.
Lesson 17: “Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck speed.
Take leave when you’ve earned it: Spend time with your families, friends, travel & hobbies. Balance your Work & Personal Life so you’ll be more whole & happier and can make a better contribution.
Lesson 18: “The place at the top of the mountain can be very lonely.”
Harry Truman was right. “Whether you’re a Owner, Founder, CEO or Project Leader – the buck stops there !!! You can encourage participative management and bottom-up employee involvement, but ultimately, the essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization is yours. I’ve seen too many non-leaders flinch from this responsibility. Even as you create an informal, open, collaborative corporate culture, prepare to be lonely sometimes at the top.
Comments: Is there anything else that impressed you with Colin Powell?
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