General Colin Powell, died Monday at age 84. He was the first black officer to be a four-star general commanding troops in the US Army. He then went on to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and eventually US Secretary of State.
Powell’s rules are actually lessons themselves, gleaned from his decades in uniform. The genius is in their simplicity. He compiled them in 1989 and since then they have become a popular reference for leadership principles. I believe that you will find Powell’s 13 rules compelling:
Rule No. 1: It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
There’s a silver lining in every cloud, you just have to find it. Things might look bad today, but if you’ve put in the effort, tomorrow will be a brighter day. It’s a state of mind; believe it and you will make it happen.
Rule No. 2: Get mad, and then get over it.
Anger is part of the normal range of human emotions. When you lose your temper, don’t lose control at the same time. Better to feel it, then let it go before it affects your decision-making in a negative way.
Rule No. 3: Don’t become so attached to an argument that if it fails, your ego goes with it.
Things aren’t always going to go your way, that’s just a fact of life. Be humble enough to accept that fact. Great leaders also know it’s important to find ways for other people to save face during disputes, because that can make it a lot easier for them to agree with you when appropriate.
Rule No. 4: It can be done.
This is about having a positive mindset. Powell wrote: “Always start out believing you can get it done until facts and analysis pile up against it. Have a positive and enthusiastic approach.” Just about anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.
Rule No. 5: Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
Don’t rush into a bad decision. Once you pull the trigger, there are no do-overs. Take the time to analyse your options, consider the relevant facts and make reasoned assumptions to meet your goals.
Rule No. 6: Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
Almost all important decisions have to be made without complete information. If you wait until there is complete information, it may be too late to decide. Allow yourself to trust your informed instincts, and acknowledge that being human means everyone makes mistakes from time to time.
Rule No. 7: You can’t make someone else’s decisions.
Never allow someone else to make your decisions for you. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own decisions. Make your own decisions and live with them. This especially comes into play when positive things are being dangled in front of you, but they don’t align with your goals and values.
Rule No. 8 Check small things.
Success is built on a lot of seemingly minor details. Leaders must have ways to check the little things without getting lost in the detail. Don’t let optimism or enthusiasm lead you to assume that things will be a success.
Rule No. 9: Share credit.
It’s not all about you. Success relies on the effort of the entire team, not just the leader. Recognition motivates people in ways that are immeasurable. As Powell wrote: “People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.”
Rule No. 10: Remain calm and be kind.
When chaos reigns, be the leader people want to follow, not the leader people want to avoid. A calm head and a kind word go a long way.
Rule No. 11: Have a vision.
People have a deep emotional need for purpose. If you’re a leader, part of your job is to articulate a vision that is worthy of their efforts. This is crucial in developing motivation within your team.
Rule No. 12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
Fear can be normal and even be useful, but this emotion must be removed from decision-making. Learn to understand your fears and channel them in ways that you can control rather than letting fears control you.
Rule No. 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Optimism is infectious. Maintaining a positive attitude and an air of confidence is as important for you as it is for those around you. People will feed off your optimism. Believe in your purpose, believe in yourself and believe in your people. And they will believe in you.
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