“The Lighthouse” – An E-Newsletter
Colin Powell’s Rules
During Colin Powell’s distinguished military career he develop the following “rules” to embed the lessons that he had learned over the years. These rules are good advice for anyone in a leadership position.
1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
First reports are almost always wrong. Situations are generally clearer after additional information is obtained and refined. Rather than making kneejerk reactions, take the time to develop the situation and determine as many viable alternatives as possible
2. Get mad, then get over it.
Everyone gets angry from time to time, it’s a normal human response. However, it is a poor leader to takes action while angry. Anger will cloud your judgment and cause an emotional, not intellectual response. So get angry, go out a kick a couple of trash cans; then settle down, look at the facts and your options, and commit to your most favorable course of action.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
One of my favorite sayings is “Park your ego at the door.” If you think you know all of the answers or are better than the “other guy,” it will cloud your judgment. Whether you are part of a team making a decision or going through your own, individual decision-making process, you need to separate yourself from the situation and your emotions from the facts.
4. It can be done!
We once had a poster in our office that said, “Will those people who say it can’t be done get out of the way of the people who are doing it!” There are actually very few things in life that can’t be done. Success often depends on how many resources you are willing to commit to the action, the level of risk you are willing to accept, and the skill of the team taking the action. History is filled with examples of things that “couldn’t be done,” but ended up taking place.
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
A friend of mine was a program manager for a government program and had gotten tired of always being underfunded, so one year he doubled his budget request to insure he had the financial resources he needed. Well, he got his full request and then was in a situation where he couldn’t spend everything he had been given! You’d be surprised how hard it is to spend the government’s money and stay of out jail!
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
Refer back to Rule #1. Things often aren’t as bad as they look at first glance. Unfavorable data doesn’t always mean you can’t make a good decision. Sometimes a problem can be turned into an opportunity. For example the invention of the 3M Post It Note was the result of a failed glue experiment. As a matter of fact 3M Corporation developed into the company it is today because their early attempts as a mining company were total failures. Yet, today 3M is a very successful company.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
On the battlefield or in business, the organization that holds the initiative has control of the situation. Military forces try to never lose the initiative and if lost, make every effort to regain it! Never surrender the initiative to your competition.
8. Check small things.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” You may not be the one checking everything yourself, but you need to insure the details are being confirmed. Time and time again, operations on the battlefield and in the boardroom have failed because some small detail was overlooked and ended up being the “monkey wrench” in the machinery.
9. Share credit.
Yeah, you were in charge, you took the personal risk to your reputation. However, you know you didn’t do it all by yourself. Recognize those people that made your success possible. If you fail to recognize and acknowledge the efforts of your team, just how much extra effort are you going to be able to expect from them on the next operation?
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
Leaders are expected to remain “cool under fire.” When things are falling apart and chaos is raging, people want someone who can say, “Look, it’s OK, we can work our way through this, hang in there!” Also remember that your team is made up of human beings who are imperfect and you are not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. When someone makes a mistake, be kind. Correct their error, but fix the problem and not the blame. Who did it is not near as important as why it happened.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
Leaders are expected to provide guidance and direction. You have to know where you are going and point your team in the right direction. Insist that your team meet the standard of performance that has been set for each task. Never accept anything less than that standard of performance. This standard doesn’t have to be perfection, but it does represent acceptable performance.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
Things can look really bad at times and you just feel like you can’t make it. During the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Hal Moore’s air assault battalion was isolated and in danger of being overrun by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regular forces. During the battle his staff noted that at times he seemed to “tune out.” When asked about it later, LTC Moore said he periodically would mentally remove himself from the battle and ask himself three questions:
- What’s happening?
- What’s not happening?
- What can I do to influence the action?
These questions forced him to not despair, but decide what the appropriate actions were to be taken and then execute those actions. As a result they victorious over the NVA forces that had surrounded them. These are good questions for any leader to use to reflect on the situation and get past the fear and negative attitudes that may surround you.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
A positive, failure is not an option, attitude keeps leaders focused on achieving success, stimulating their imagination to continue to search for new ways to succeed.
Colin Powell was born in Harlem to immigrant parents. He rose through the ranks of the U.S. military to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a steel-willed Desert Storm hero, and on to become Secretary of State.
©Implement Improvement, DeWitt, MI