Colin Powell’s Thirteen Rules
May 13, 2022
Colin Powell was the first black U.S. Secretary of State. (Despite the smoking gun fiasco at the UN that led to the Iraq war!!)
In the foreword to his acclaimed memoir It Worked For Me: In Life And Leadership, Colin Powell summarized some of the leadership lessons he gleaned over his lifetime as his 13 rules for leadership.
As with all good quotes and aphorisms, they offer a universal perspective on how leaders should act and think.
Here are Colin Powell’s Thirteen Rules:
1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning
Nothing ever is as bad as it looks at that moment. When you deal with challenges in life with this perspective, you will engage with them with a positive and hopeful attitude.
2. Get mad, then get over it-Everyone gets mad
When we are upset, we are upset. We don’t have to beat ourselves for being mad. More important is that you don’t let your sticky emotions persist. Learn to move on.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it
This is a brilliant one. Don’t get too attached to your own self-importance. You don’t have to be right always.
4. It can be done
Being positive and optimistic is a great virtue. You can connect with people better if you have a sunny disposition.
5. Be careful what you choose: You may get it
This is another profound one. There are never good or bad choices. There are only outcomes for choices- if you like the outcome, you think it was a good outcome, and If you don’t like it, you see it as a bad outcome. So exercise care in your choices so that you minimize the pain associated with the outcomes you don’t like.
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision
This is another gem. We don’t like facts that don’t agree with our worldview or belief system. And when we encounter such facts, we discount them in favor of our own beliefs. Having the open-mindedness to question your own beliefs and blind spots is critical if you want to excel as a leader.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours
Don’t dance to others’ tunes, and don’t expect others to dance to your tune either. As a leader, you need to be your own man.
8. Check small things
As leaders, we need to have the ability to get into the small details. It is in the small details that both the big problems and opportunities lurk.
9. Share credit
There is nothing to be said here. Be magnanimous and shine your spotlight on others. Bask in the success of others. You will shine brighter.
10. Remain calm. Be kind
Peace, calm and kindness are two sides of the same coin. When you are peaceful and serene, you are naturally kind. But, putting it differently, you can’t be calm if you are harboring combative thoughts and feelings.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding
When you are a leader, people look up to you. They want to know what you are thinking and where you want to take them. At the same time, when you are demanding, your team knows you care, and they will follow you.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers
Don’t let your voice of confidence be drowned by the negative noise of your own fears or others. Follow your own counsel.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier
Having faith that you will be able to get to where you are going is critical if you want to inspire confidence in others to follow you. People can sniff out if you are a closet cynic trying to show false optimism.