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Today, I heard another fascinating interview at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit – this time, with Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, former Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the greatest leaders of our time. General Powell explained the principles that have governed his life and leadership.

PROMOTE A CLASH OF IDEAS –

encourage an environment where those who work with you have the freedom to argue with you. You don’t need to have your ideas to be reinforced. You need to pull their expertise out of them. When you’ve heard enough, tell what you will do and expect full passion as you move forward.

PLANS DO NOT ACCOMPLISH WORK. PEOPLE DO –

leaders are responsible to put people in the best possible environment for them to do their work. Followers will get things done.

MAINTAIN AN OPEN DOOR POLICY –

get direct, honest, candid feedback from those outside the organization. You need to hear reality.

PROBE THE ORGANIZATION – GET INFORMATION FROM ANY SOURCE –

anyone can give you information. It is ok to break the chain of command, as long as you reassure supervisors that they will not be threatened. Close the loop with those who bring you information.

REWARD YOUR BEST PERFORMERS – GET RID OF NON-PERFORMERS

Retrain, move them or release them to go elsewhere. Be willing to prune and groom the organization. If you don’t, you will demotivate your best people.

BE PREPARED TO DISAPPOINT PEOPLE –

you will make people unhappy.

CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR –

do not wed your ego to the position. If people do not go along with our ideas, it is not a personal attack. You need people to tell you what they think, trust you to do the right thing, but don’t let your ego be attached.

MAKE SURE TO HAVE FUN ALONG THE WAY –

even during the worst of Desert Storm, Powell worked at his hobby – restoring old cars. He found it cleared his mind.

FIT NO STEREOTYPE –

He refused to be type-cast as a “black general” or “black soldier.”

In 1958, Trueman desegregated the army. Soldiers would be evaluated by their performance, not their color. The army was the most socially-conscious organization in the world.

As I listened, I asked myself, “Where was the church? Why is the church not the most socially-conscious organization in the world?”

Powell explained that he stood on the shoulders of 300 years of black soldiers who believed if they spilled their red blood for their country, sooner or later, the color bar would be eliminated.

KEEP YOUR FAMILY STRONG –

Powell explained that he received two thing from his family (I found this fascinating): expectations and a sense of shame. His relatives told him, “we have not worked hard, sweat and sacrificed for you to waste your life. You will go to college, whether you want to or not. You don’t have a choice. This is what is expected of you!”

The sense of shame came with words like this: you are of this family. You will not bring shame to this family.”

OPTIMISM IS A “FORCE-MULTIPLIER” –

the attitude that “this problem can be fixed” gives a you a tactical advantage.

THINGS ALWAYS LOOK BETTER IN THE MORNING –

never start the day thinking, “things will be as bad today as they were yesterday.”

Staff meetings with the general were daily, first thing in the morning, and were short – 10-30 minutes. “Here we are, tell me what I need to know.”

Give clear goals, be a good example, believe in your people, be ethical and honest, and remember, the organization does not exist for your benefit.

Powell was known as “the reluctant general.” He said, “avoid war at all costs. War kills young men of all countries. War is a failure of diplomacy.”

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS –

Ask, “Does this make sense? Could this be?”

BE PREPARED TO BE LONELY –

at the end of the day, you are the one to make the key decisions. Be prepared to stand and make them.

General Powell told of calling General Swartzkoff every morning and evening, to allow him to blow off steam. He understood the loneliness of leadership.

ALL OF US HAVE A DEBT OF SERVICE WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO REPAY

Finally, General Powell explained that he was working with teenagers, aged 13-17, to make “soldiers” out of them – discipline, accountablity, mission, etc.

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