The other day I was thinking about leaders in the White House, in my own house, in countries like Syria and companies like Apple.
I was reflecting upon revolutionaries from Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks to the single parent of three, who inspires her or his children by hard work and tough love.
I was contemplating the power of influence and influencers who make a difference by their command and control to others who demand respect with their silence and servitude.
From Jesus to James Dean and prosperity to prowess, leaders and what attracts others to them might vary, but one constant remains the same: Everything rises and falls on leadership, as Dr. John Maxwell has put it.
Leadership has built the biggest empires. It has collapsed the greatest corporations. It can unify diversity or divide unity. It can cast visions, catalyze movements, coalesce people and revolutionize industries and culture. Or it can run an organization and country into the ground by hardly trying or making a few wrong moves.
And you get what you pay for in leadership, not just in monetary terms but in quality of leader replication and organizational development. There is direct correlation between the health and potential of its leaders and how far their subordinates and the organization can soar. Fudge on leadership, and a company will falter, plain and simple. Morality, magnanimity and mistakes all metastasize under the levels of leaders. For an enterprise cannot grow greater, wider or deeper than the person and people at the top.
No leader is perfect, and everyone has his or her flaws. But those who have gained my respect are those who have proven themselves through the test of time and results.
One of those is Gen. Colin Powell.
You might not agree with his politics. You might not like all his moral stands. You might assail him for his entanglements in the Middle East. Or you might say Washington’s marginalizing Powell was a big mistake.
But you can’t deny his stellar career as a leader par excellence. From his four decades of military service – beginning at age 17 as an ROTC cadet, this retired four-star general in the U.S. Army also served in four presidential administrations, including being the first African-American to serve as chairman to the Joint Chief of Staff and U.S. Secretary of State.
And whether or not you believe Powell ever had a tryst with a female Romanian Diplomat, you can’t deny the power of his 50-year marriage to his beloved Alma or his fatherhood to their three successful adult children: Michael, the current president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; Linda, a professional American actress; and Annemarie, a television producer.
One of the things I love about Colin Powell is that how he won’t be controlled or pigeonholed in life or leadership: His service spans his service to country or speaking this past year on “TED” TV about how “kids need structure” – a must-watch 17-minute video that would serve any patriot, parent or child leader.
In Powell’s most recent book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” Chapter 21 about “What I tell My New Aides,” has some excellent leadership tenets any boss or leader would want subordinates to know about himself or herself. They also convey principles and qualities every follower would want in a healthy leader above them.
Here are 11 of Powell’s principles for cohesive leadership and staff relations:
- “Don’t ever hesitate to ask me what to do if uncertain.
- “I’m a people/phone junkie. I like to remain enormously accessible.
- “Avoid ‘The General Wants’ syndrome – unless I really do.
- “Don’t ever sign my name, or for me.
- “Provide feedback, but be tactful to those who ask. Talks between you and I are private and confidential.
- “Never keep anyone waiting on the phone – call back.
- “I like meetings generally uninterrupted. I ask a lot of questions. I like questions and debates.
- “Be punctual; don’t waste my time.
- “I prefer written information to oral. Writing encourages discipline.
- “Make sure correspondence is excellence. No split infinitives.
- “Never, never permit illegal or stupid actions. Any questions?”
And also worth their leadership weight in gold are Colin Powell’s general 13 Rules that he elaborates on in the first section of his book:
- “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.”
Your role models may not include Powell, but it’s critical for all of us to have them – mentors we look up to for the variety of roles and responsibilities we assume in this life.
They are those who inspire us as well as take us to task and challenge our most dogged dogma. They may be those we know or those we’ve never met – those who are living or dead. But they are always those who shape and influence our lives. They are our leaders, though they might even be our subordinates, too. The proof is in the pudding: We are who we are around.
Don’t ever forget it: Everything rises and falls on leadership. As the leaders go, there goes the household, company or nation.
Or as Colin Powell once put it, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”