Title: It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

Authors: Colin Powell and Tony Koltz

Publisher: Harper, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0062135124, 304 pages



Colin Powell is an American icon. A former U.S. secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this four-star general rose from modest beginnings as a child of immigrants to the heights of power as a military and civilian leader. In this autobiographical book of observations on leadership, Powell, collaborating with writer Tony Koltz, parses through his life and the opportunities he has had, distilling the valuable information he has learned into anecdotal teachings on management and leadership.

Many of his conclusions are inspirational, though the book does bog down at times in diplomatic and military exploits. His treatment of his infamous 2003 U.N. presentation, when he asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, may leave some readers dissatisfied. However, getAbstract believes that Powell’s admirers and those who value business advice based on military wisdom will gain greatly from his hard-won successes.

Army strong

Colin Powell grew up in the Bronx in New York City, the son of Jamaican immigrants. He spent his teenage summers and school vacations working at a local store and at a soft-drink bottling plant. By dint of his strong work ethic, he managed to rise from the all-black porters’ staff to become the first African-American on the plant’s bottling-machine team. He learned it was important to “always do your best, [because] someone is watching.”

Because of his race and less-than-stellar grades, Powell couldn’t aspire to any of the country’s elite military academies, but he did graduate from the City College of New York as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. He then served as an officer in the U.S. Army, coming up through the infantry and doing two tours in Vietnam. He was an honors graduate of the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Colin Powell’s 13 rules

Powell was the first African-American to head a “four-star troop command” when he became the general in charge of all stateside Army forces at the Army’s Forces Command. In August 1989, a popular U.S. magazine published a cover story on him that spelled out 13 of his favorite leadership maxims:

1. “It ain’t as bad as you think” – Actually, it may be that bad, or even worse, but this first rule relates how leaders should look at events and problems, regardless of their potential outcome. If leaders are negative and always expect the worst, their followers will abandon them. A good leader never exhibits defeat, indecision or fear. Powell’s positivity traces back to his training as an infantry officer, where he learned: “No challenge is too great for us, no difficulty we cannot overcome.”

2. “Get mad, then get over it” – Despite having a “severe temper,” Powell learned that managing his anger is critical. In the early months of 2003, when the United States was looking for international support for the upcoming Iraq War, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin publicly announced that France would block any military plans against Iraq; he made this declaration despite his private assurances to Powell that he would not broach the subject at that time. But Powell kept his cool and his friendship with de Villepin. France eventually supported the United States through “six straight UN resolutions” on Iraq.

3. “Avoid having your ego [too] close to your position” – When Powell was Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, one of his assistants frequently encouraged him to meet often with the members of Congress who controlled the U.S. military’s purse strings. The assistant performed his duty with such persistence that Powell would often loudly order him out of his office; but this never deterred the aide, who always went back the next day to bug Powell again about going to Capitol Hill. The assistant understood that Powell’s irritated responses to his entreaties were not meant personally. Get your staffers to offer and justify their ideas, but once you decide on a course of action, demand that your team implement your decisions as enthusiastically as they argued for or against them: “Loyalty is disagreeing strongly and...executing faithfully.”…

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