Colin Powell is a respected Five-Star General who has held several major offices during the course of his illustrious career. Some of these offices include National Security Advisor, Commander of the U.S. Army Forces, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State. During his time as Secretary of State under the Bush Administration, he held moderate political viewpoints in an otherwise conservative administration. Some of claimed that this is one of the many reasons Powell was asked to resign from his position after Bush’s first term in office. Powell now leads a largely quiet life away from the public eye. However, he still occasionally offers his professional counsel on Capital Hill and sponsors many different charities.
‘A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.’
The concept of ‘dreams’ is often considered to be a whimsical and childish idea. Here, Powell points out that dreams can certainly become a reality if you work for them. However, you can’t expect anyone to hand them to you.
‘Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.’
A great leader will make good decisions regardless of others opinions. If every leader did things based on general approval, then society would never progress.
‘Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.’
Not only is this a great trick for actual driving, it serves as a wonderful metaphor for looking at life in general. The past is the past and while you may learn from it, it does not define the future. Always look ahead.
‘Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems
with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who
never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how.’
Be selective when choosing people to seek counsel from. Be weary of who holds sway over your life decisions, because the unproductive and inexperienced are always offering their two cents, much of which is useless.
‘The freedom to do your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best.’
You can give a person all the opportunity in the world to prove themselves, but ultimately that doesn’t matter unless the person is willing to take advantage of the opportunities they’ve been gifted with.
‘Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’
Here Powell is responding to the accusations that Obama was lying about his religious affiliation. While Powell corrects the misconception, he also questions the controversy surrounding it. He harkens back to the freedom of religion principle the United States was founded on and reminds everyone that there is nothing wrong with affiliating with any religion.
‘If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool.’
No matter what hand of cards life deals you ‘ whether it be great or terrible ‘ make the absolute best of it. Turn it around and use it to your advantage. This will make you an adaptable and unstoppable force.
‘The day you are not solving problems or are not up to your butt in problems is probably a day you are no longer leading. If your desk is clean and no one is bringing you problems, you should be very worried. It means that people don’t think you can solve them or don’t want to hear about them. Or, far worse, it means they don’t think you care.’
A heap of complaints is usually associated with a leader in some position not doing their job well. However, Powell points out that complaints are a means to getting things done and as long as the complaints are coming in, the people have some semblance of faith that you will be able to take action. When there are no more complaints you have not reached perfection. The people have simply lost faith in your ability to repair them.
‘Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.’
One cannot take the risks necessary to successful leadership if they are afraid to anger someone. No progressive or cutting edge decisions are ever popular at first. A true leader will consider all the options and then select the best one, whether people agree or not.
‘With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it. Be careful
where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life. Wise is the
person who fortifies his life with the right friendships. If you run with
wolves, you will learn how to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you
will learn how to soar to great heights.’
The company you keep can have a great deal of impact on your life as a whole. Some people are simply those you pass time with and others are people who can help you along the way. It is human nature to do as others do, so if you surround yourself with great people, you yourself will strive for greatness.
‘Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.’
Work may be important, but it is also impermanent. It will not be there for you when you meet your end. Tying your ego so close to your work puts you in a bad position if your work goes. You cannot let it take over your entire existence.
‘Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.’
Sometimes people do not seek out the truth because it may be far too disturbing to witness. However, looking at what you may not want to see is essential to resolving issues. This applies to both a person’s work and personal life.
‘Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through the argument debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.’
When many think of intelligence, they think of the unreachable. Powell corrects this idea here by pointing out that a good leader can find a solution that appeals to everyone in some way and can be understood by everyone.
‘Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves.’
The best people to work with are those that will focus on the work itself rather than their own pride. Once your pride gets tangled up in the work, decisions stop being made for the sake of the project or task being focused on. It becomes about the person rather than the work.
‘If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.’
Achieving excellence in something is not a happy coincidence. It is not a state of being that simply appear out of nothing. Excellence is a way in which you approach everything. Adopting this way of looking at life is the only way you can tackle big things and excel.
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