Colin Powell’s Lessons on Leadership

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, is no stranger to leadership and at the recent American Wind Energy Association Fall Symposium in Phoenix he said that his idea of what it is to be a leader evolved as he moved through various positions in public service. Among his key points:

  • Leaders exist to give followers what they need to get their job done. It is the followers who go into battle and accomplish the tasks assigned.
  • The most important part of leadership is instilling trust in those you command.If you have their trust, they will follow you anywhere. “Every human endeavor has leaders and followers, and your job as a leader is to inspire,” he said.
  • Leadership begins with goals. When the followers know what the goals are, everyone understands the importance of their own role for the common purpose.
  • People want to know that you are serving a greater purpose than just your own.“Increasingly, our people want to see leaders who are respected, leaders who are selfless,” Powell said.
  • Express appreciation. Make sure that those under your command understand that you appreciate what they are doing, Powell  said. While serving as secretary of state, Powell said, he let people know he appreciated their work through personal visits and thank-you cards.
  • Solve problems. A leader also needs to recognize when someone is not performing well. It is a leader’s job to identify the source of the problem, and fix it. “Leadership is problem-solving, and you are expected as leaders to know what’s going on throughout your organization,” he said.

Of these points, I am drawn most to the first. Leaders are most often judged publicly by what they accomplish, but Powell suggests, and I believe he is right on point, that effective leaders must first ensure that their followers are able to do their jobs.

How often are you as a follower, waiting for a leader to give you the tools you need?

How often as a leader are you first looking to provide for those who follow you?

 

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