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It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership Hardcover – May 22, 2012
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A Note from Colin Powell on It Worked for Me
I love stories. In the course of my career I gathered a number of them that mean a lot to me. Most come from my military life. I was in the military from age seventeen as an ROTC cadet until I was a retired GI at age fifty-six. Others came from my service as Secretary of State and as National Security Advisor. Yet others came to me as I wandered through life. In this book I want to share with you a selection of these stories as well as experiences that have stayed with me over the years. Each one of them taught me something important about life and leadership. Some of the stories deal with serious aspects of my life, including some of the controversial issues I was involved in during my tenure as Secretary of State. There are also humorous stories from my life as well. I offer them to you for whatever use you may wish to make of them.
The first part of It Worked for Me explains my Thirteen Rules, which have been bouncing around since they were first published in Magazine over twenty years ago. These are rules that I have gathered over the years and to which I’ve adhered in my career.
CLP's Thirteen Rules:
- It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
- Get mad, then get over it.
- Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
- It can be done!
- Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
- Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
- You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
- Check small things.
- Share credit.
- Remain calm. Be kind.
- Have a vision. Be demanding.
- Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
- Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
The rest of the book focuses on everything from the importance of really knowing who you are and how to always be yourself to why I put an emphasis on knowing and taking care of others, especially those who are your followers. I go into my experience in the exploding digital realm that has reshaped the world and our lives. I talk about how to be a great manager and a great leader. I give no conclusions or recommendations, just my observations. The chapters are free-standing. You can read them straight through or jump in anywhere. Everyone has life lessons and stories. These are mine. All I can say is that they worked for me. --Colin Powell
“An entertaining read from a charming, accomplished man. . . . A delightful book.” (The Washington Times)
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Very enjoyable and instructional read. Here is a leader who deals with life and death matters. It continues the theme of mindset and echoes the themes noted.
He speaks about both his strengths and weaknesses. He speaks about the successes and people he has had the honor of meeting and calling a friend, such as past presidents, English royalty, and other key political figures. But, he also speaks frankly about his Feb 2003 speech about Saddam Hussein and allegations of weapons of mass destruction.
The key learnings relate to Leadership and Mindset. I have set out some of the memorable points on leadership and mindset. And, I have noted his 5 lists, which he has developed and shared over his career:
a) sets the high standards and mutual respect, which will flow through the organization.
b) solves problems
c) takes responsibility for setting a plan and continues to adjust such plan based on new information
d) Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire
a) ensures a problem-solving attitude
b) teaches and exemplifies moral courage to speak out when standards are not being met
c) creates imaginative and creative folks with ideas and the ability to anticipate.
d) ensures that learning and improvement are the sole focus, not the unit's success or failure in the mission. It's not a blame game
e) ensures that evaluations should evolve into a system that asks, where do we need more training? How do we make our troops better and more skilled? What have we done right? What have we done wrong? The sole goal is to improve our performance
f) always gets over failure quickly. Learns from it, study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it, and move on.
g) Understand that it isn't where you start in life that counts; it is where you end up. So believe in yourself, work hard, study hard, be your own role model, believe that anything is possible, and always do your best. Remember that your past is not necessarily your future.
Colin Powell's Lists
a) 13 rules: General life advice and how to survive
b) Intelligence gathering: Discerning fact from supposition
c) Mental Checklist: Advice before making a decision
d) Press interviews: Things to remember when speaking on the record
e) How to survive as my staff aide - or what not to do: Rules to live by to work for Colin
a) 13 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 fall, you ego goes with it.
4) It can be done - It is more about your attitude than reality. Maybe it can't be done, but always start out believing you can get it done until facts and analysis pile up against it.
5) Be careful what you choose: you may get it
6) Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. - Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
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
b) Intelligence gathering:
1. Tell me What you know: Means you are reasonably sure that your facts are corroborated. You know where they came from, and you can confirm them with multiple sources.
2. Tell me what you don't know
3. Then tell me what you think
4. Always distinguish which from which
5. Place carefully each in their proper box: facts, opinion, analysis, hunches, instinct
c) Mental checklist:
a) Does it make common sense? Take a deep breath, rub your eyes.
b) Does it fit in with everything else that is going on? Is there a context for this event?
c) How much time do I have to figure this out?
d) How can I confirm it?
e) What are the risks, costs, and opportunities lost if the report is true and we delay action?
f) What are the risks, costs, and missed opportunities if it is false and we act too quickly?
g) What are the stakes?
h) Time's up! Do something! Keep searching!
d) With respect to the press, remember:
a) They get to pick the questions. You get to pick the answer
b) You don't have to answer any questions you don't want to
c) Never lie or dissemble, of course; but beware of being too candid or open
d) Never answer hypothetical questions about the future
e) Never reveal the private advice you have given your superiors
f) Answers should be directed to the message you want readers/viewers to get. The interviewers are not your audience
g) They're doing their job you're doing yours but you're the only one at risk
h) Don't predict or speculate about future events
i) Beware slang or one-liners unless you are consciously trying to produce a sound bite
j) Don't wash dirty linen
k) Do not answer any question containing a premise you disagree with
l) Don't push yourself or be pushed into an answer you don't want to give
m) If trapped, be vague and mumble
n) Never cough or shift your feet
o) When there are second follow-up questions, you're in trouble - break right, apply power, gain altitude, or eject.
e) How to survive as my aide-or what not to do
1. Don't hesitate to ask me what to do if uncertain
2. Don't ever sign my name, or for me
3. Never use money on my behalf
4. Avoid "the general wants" syndrome-unless I really do
5. Provide feedback, but be tactful to those who ask-talks between you and me are private and confidential
6. Family has nothing to do with the office. Never interrupt with calls from family unless there's a crisis.
7. Never keep anybody waiting on the phone-call back
8. I like meeting generally uninterrupted. I ask a lot of questions. I like questions and debate.
9. I'm a people/phone junkie. I like to remain enormously accessible
10. I will develop ways of getting to know what's happening
11. Don't accept speaking engagements without my knowledge
12. Keep accurate calendars and records. And keep faithful track of calls and whom I have seen. I'll always return calls
13. I tend to get moody or preoccupied. I will snap, but that clears the air
14. Be punctual; don't waste my time
15. I prefer written information to oral: writing encourages discipline
16. I do lots of paperwork-and I like doing it
17. Make sure correspondence is excellent. No split infinitives
18. Never, never permit illegal or stupid actions
19. No surprises. I don't like to be blindsided. Bad news doesn't get any better with time. If there is a problem brewing, I want to know early-heads-up as soon as possible
20. Speak precisely. I often fudge for a reason. Don't over interpret what I say
21. Don't rush into decisions-Make them timely and correct
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.