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I have little interest in celebrities. If I were the rule rather than the exception, Hard Copy and People would go out of business fast. So, earlier this year, when General Colin Powell made the transformation from a human being to phenomenon, and when his nationwide book-signing tour became a happening to frenzied masses--well, I paid little attention. I didn't buy the book, either.
Then I found myself on the same speaking platform as Powell. Charitably speaking, I was the opening act in front of 1,000 bankers who were there to see the main show. I stuck around to see it, too, and frankly, I was impressed. Powell was witty, erudite, insightful, articulate and self-deprecating. All commendable virtues. So I decided to buy the book.
Am I glad I did! My American Journey is a marvelous work, and it provided an unexpected payoff. As I read it, I started to underline noteworthy phrases and sentences and soon realized that what I was underlining were gems of wisdom regarding effective leadership. In fact, when I was finished, I was ready to toss out every leadership book in my library.
I'd like to share with you a compendium of advice from the general. With the exception of the occasional paraphrase to keep grammatical consistency (which will be noted), I present Powell's words verbatim in italics-18 priceless lessons, to be exact. After each quotation from General Powell, I attach my own civilian commentary which I hope you will find useful.
"Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."
Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable--if you're honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You'll avoid the tough decisions, you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally "nicely" regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.
"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped …