1 September 2008

Powell on Leadership

I am sure you have come across a lot of literature on leadership. If you had any doubts how difficult true leadership is, just look at the number of books written on it 🙂 Most of the literature has a couple of good ideas and then a lot of pages so that they can actually make a book out of it.

However, there is a presentation I came across about 10 years back. A colleague of mine passed it on to me. It is a 20 -odd slides presentation from Colin Powell titled “A Leadership Primer”. I love it so much that I go thru it even today – at least once a quarter. Once in a while, when I find myself getting dragged into corporate politics, I go back and read the slides again. It is a great pick-me-upper.

I guess the reason I have liked the presentation so much is because

(*) it makes some very bold statements
(*) the examples and explanations are to the point and focused (that is why it is a slide, not a chapter in a book)
(*) it gives the best definition of Leadership I have found till date.

I would strongly recommend that you go thru it at your convenience when you get some time. Here is a website that has the slides: http://www.blaisdell.com/powell

Here is a quick run thru of the titles:

1. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off
2. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
3. Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.
4. Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
5. Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
6. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
7. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.
8. Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
9. Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.
10. Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
11. Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.
12. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
13. Powell’s Rules for Picking People: Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
14.Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
15. Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
16. The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
17. Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it. Spend time with your families. Corollary: surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.
18. Command is lonely.

and my most favorite…

“Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible”.


Posted September 1, 2008 by Rajib Roy in category "Reflections

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