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Revisiting Colin Powell's 13 Rules

Recently, I came across an interview of the late General Colin Powell on YouTube that I shared on social media. Those of you who know me know that I have been inspired for many decades by the General. I can remember standing in line in 1995 to get Powell's autograph for his first book, "My American Journey." I was so inspired, like so many others, to hear about Powell's journey from his humble beginnings in New York, to his meteoric rise to become a four star General in the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State. And along the way, he was decorated for his service in Vietnam. Quite the American journey indeed!

I waited for a few hours in that line at a place called Crown Books in Northern Virginia. I was still working at the CIA then. There was buzz that maybe Powell would someday run for the presidency. When I finally got to meet Powell and he signed my book, I was elated. He said "hello, how are you?" and proceeded to sign my book. At that point in my life, I never thought I would cross paths with Powell again. But I was wrong.

While I was CSO at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to moderate a session with General Powell for a group of fellow CSOs at a major security conference in Las Vegas. What a delight to meet him again, in a more personal setting, and moderate a fascinating session with him. He was sharp, witty, funny, serious, smart and definitely had command presence. I remember vividly as Powell told the audience not to take pictures of him with flash as it bothered him. Pictures were fine but no flash. I guess a few CSOs didn't get the message and when they took flash pictures, the General in Powell came back to light as he forcefully, but respectfully reminded people not to take flash photos. Inwardly, I was smiling. I can see how Powell had an inner strength that was composed of both the ability to have empathy for his troops, while being able to make sure, in a no-nonsense manner, that when he said something, he meant it!

Over the years, I have referred to Colin Powell's 13 Rules of Leadership often. I still do to this day. Many of you have probably heard of or read the 13 Rules. But if you haven't, this is a must read for all leaders. When Powell was Chairman, Joint Chiefs Staff, he kept these rules on 3x5 cards on his desk. They are rules that can help any leader through any situation. Powell never meant the rules to be some magic bullet that would solve every leader's problems or difficulties they face instantaneously. I believe he used the rules himself, and shared them with others, to provide a roadmap and inspiration for leaders. I know that when I was facing difficult decisions or situations both at the CIA and at Microsoft, I often referred to these 13 Rules. I printed them out and kept a copy near my desk.

They were a source of strength for me in tough times. Even retired, as I have now embarked on a new path of writing, heading up the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Foundation Board of Directors, and working with my wife on our own Foundation, I refer to these rules often. So for this blog post, I want to share them with you.

  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning

  2. Get mad then get over it.

  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position fails, your ego goes with it.

  4. It can be done.

  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.

  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.

  8. Check small things.

  9. Share credit.

  10. Remain calm. Be kind.

  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.

  12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers

  13. Perpetual Optimism is a force multiplier.

My favorites are numbers 1 and 13. It will look better in that morning. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. I love all the rules but these are my favorites. My point in this post is to remember a great leader, patriot, father, husband, American and human being. Powell was an inspiration to many, including me. Hopefully, as you are on your own leadership journey and face the inevitable problems, crisis situations and headaches all leaders must go through, Powell's wisdom in these 13 rules will give you hope, strength, wisdom and inspiration. Thanks General Powell. Mission Accomplished!

Till next time. 

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