on November 25, 2012
GEN(R) Powell is an effective professional speaker - motivational, encouraging, humorous. This book reads like a collection of short speeches each with a specific lesson to be shared. As the title of the book states, the collection is of principles and ideas that worked for him throughout his professional life. Many apply to most people. Some are focused at people at the top of their profession. All have something of value or to consider for any reader.
Readers of and about GEN(R) Powell will find some familiar stories from his youth and time in the Army. New stories included in this book are from his time as Secretary of State and his relationship with leaders from other nations. He is a great story teller. He is also very effective at gleaning lessons from his stories and distilling them into simple language for the reader. The result is an easy reading book with some insights into the man, some ideas that can apply to each of us, and an enjoyable recollection of some recent history.
Some reviewers critique the book for not being a "tell all" expose of his time as Secretary of State. Some seem to want a gushing apology for his UN speech leading up to our invasion of Iraq. He addresses that speech and the faulty intelligence that he relied on and reported in two chapters of this book. He takes responsibility for the content and the errors while also providing background of how the speech came to be and why he was convinced the information he had was accurate. He states clearly that this speech is a blot on his record. However, he reminds readers that he tries to learn from his mistakes - big and small. Once a mistake is made what else can you do? You can seek to make it right, if possible. You can determine what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Or you can ignore it and pretend it didn't happen. GEN(R) Powell took the first two options.
I would have appreciated a little more introspection from GEN(R) Powell specifically on mistakes or poor decisions from his life and how he dissected them to learn from them. In a couple of places, he admits that he does not like to discuss his faults with others. He acknowledges the need to identify your weaknesses and seek to improve but is not comfortable divulging those with others, especially strangers. So be it. I can't fault him for that.
In all the book is worth reading. As a collection of very short chapters full of simple and clear lessons supported by anecdotes, I have a feeling this is not a book I'll read from cover to cover again but it is certain to be one that I pick up when facing specific challenges or preparing a speech of my own. Or maybe just to reflect on one of our nation's successful leaders and listen to his stories again.
on July 23, 2012
IT WORKED FOR ME: IN LIFE AND LEADERSHIP is the most genuine, useful leadership book I have ever read. It is not written by an academic who has never led. Nor is it an 'ego write' by an entrepreneur or high-visibility corporate executive. Rather, it is by someone who was a 'lost 17-year old' at CCNY until ROTC 'saved' him. As General Powell describes his experience, "I found my place. I found structure....I fell in love with the Army."
This youngster eventually became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council adviser to the president, and Secretary of State. He never forgot what he learned as a lieutenant:
"You may be starving, but you must never feel hunger; you always eat last. You may be freezing or near heat exhaustion, but you must never show that you are cold or hot. You may be terrified, but you must never show fear. You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions."
Over the years General Powell collected several dozen leadership-related snippets that he shoved under the glass on his desk. In response to a magazine writer's request, some of these became Powell's Thirteen Rules:
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 falls, 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.
This is an admirable list. What transforms it into a quitessential leadership learning experience is how General Powell illustrates every point with down-to-earth examples. General Powell is a magnificent storyteller with a purpose. I have experienced him over a dozen times as he spoke off-the-record to business executives and young global leaders. His empathy, self effacing humor, and ability to underscore a critical point with a timely, often amusing, story renders, for me, his Thirteen Rules unforgettable.
General Powell's military background is evidenced by the sparse clarity of his language:
* "A leader is someone unafraid to take charge...someone people respond to and are willing to follow."
* "Leaders who do not have the guts to immediately correct minor errors or shortcomings cannot be counted on
to have the guts to deal with the big things."
* As a leader there will be some "come to Jesus' moments with an individual employee.
Some reviewers of IT WORKED FOR ME seemed so blinded by General Powell's February 5, 2003 speech on Iraq at the United Nations that they were unable to discuss the merits of the book. I watched General Powell's UN speech. As someone who had written a book on modern-day Egypt, had spent a month in Iraq and had a 21/2 hour interview with then-President Abdel Karim Qassim, had worked in the State Department's Office of Intelligence and Research (INR) and then later served as Foreign Service Officer, and currently am a history professor, I found Secretary of State Powell's speech unpersuasive. Since this was the Bush administration's major effort to obtain international support for a U. S.-initiated invasion of Iraq, I anticipated a well-argued statement based on hard evidence. It didn't hold a candle to Adlai Stevenson's 'smoking pistol' UN presentation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In following weeks and months, as no WMDs were discovered, various government officials, in CIA and elsewhere, leaked stories as to why the 'official WMD intelligence' was flawed. By then I was fully aware that Vice President Richard Cheney and his cohorts were deeply involved in falsifying intelligence information. I wondered how General Powell, whose personal integrity I consider impeccable, could have been caught in this spider's web.
General Powell had apparently worked well with Cheney during the first Gulf War when Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Cheney was Defense Secretary. Back then James Baker, a hard-nosed Secretary of State, could keep a tight rein on Cheney. Also, President George H. W. Bush, with Brent Scrowcroft, his National Security Council adviser, were decent and professional when compared to President George W. Bush and NSC adviser Condi Rice. In this latter administration, Secretary Powell was confronted with the Scylla of Vice President Cheney and the Charybdis of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Secretary Powell, the most credible member of the young Bush's administration, was given only a week to craft his February 5th U.N. presentation. An initial draft, prepared by Scooter Libby, Cheney's favorite WMD go-to guy,was totally unacceptable. Powell had his key personnel spend four days at CIA sorting through intelligence reports to determine what was credible. Secretary Powell, together with Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, personally spent many hours with CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin. Tenet verified the accuracy of all the intelligence that was included in Secretary Powell's UN presentation. Also, Director Tenet sat directly behind Secretary Powell during the presentation.
Subsequently Secretary Powell has indicated that the factual inaccuracies in this presentation have been a major blot on his long personal record for integrity. Hindsight provides much clearer insight on topical events. I have no doubt that Powell trusted Tenet and Mclaughlin, when they verified each of several critical intelligence reports. Some of the most tendentious intelligence came from an Iraqi called Curveball by his German handlers. That the Germans cautioned that Curveball seemed unreliable should certainly have been known by Tenet and McLaughlin. Similarly, other intelligence that clearly was just as speculative, was steadfastly verified by the Tenet/McLaughlin duo.
I recall my days of meeting at CIA headquarters to prepare a SNIE (Special National Intelligence Report) on a Congo crisis. When State strongly differed with CIA on a substantive point, State was authorized to footnote its disagreement. I am unaware, in the December, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that included strong statements about Iraq constituting its nuclear weapons program and adding to its chemical warfare capabilities over the past year, that State took a footnote. Moreover, despite the paucity of recent intelligence on Saddam Hussein's nuclear and chemical programs, Israeli and other major national intelligence agencies seemed to believe that Hussein had ongoing nuclear and chemical programs.
Secretary Powell was facing an immutable deadline of February 5th to make the administration's case on Iraq to the UN. Clearly he sought, in an unprecedented manner, to verify his factual presentation with CIA's director and deputy director. In hindsight, some suggest that Secretary Powell could have resigned in protest. (I believe that only one American secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, ever resigned in protest---and his resignation was headlined for a day or two and then was swiftly forgotten). My only criticism of Secretary Powell's decision to
make the UN presentation on short notice relates to #6 of his Thirteen Rules: "Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision." At the time and subsequently the State Department's Office of Intelligence and Research issued reports that were consistently skeptical of what CIA was issuing and of what Vice President Cheney was declaring. Personally, I do not fault Secretary Powell for accepting the personal affirmation of Tenet and McLaughlin for intelligence that subsequently proved to be unquestionably false.
My highest regard for General Powell is undiminished by the circumstances associated with his February 5th presentation. For those with a different opinion, I suggest that they reflect on the biblical saying--let he who is without sin cast the first stone.