The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

This book contains a lot of quotes and management ideas from Colin Powell, as told by the author Oren Harari. The author made it very clear in the prologue that this book is (1) not by Colin Powell, and (2) there is no official endorsement from Colin Powell. What Harari did is that he summarized his observations of Colin Powell's leadership styles and first wrote an article in the December 1996 issue of Management Review. He later expanded that material into this book.

The lesson and insightes in the book is good but not always 100% new. It's hard to find original an new ideas. However it is a great summary of a lot of sometimes obvious principles. The Powell stories behind the lesson make them fun to read. For myself I found two of the topics particularly relevent:


Vigilance in Detail

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.

  • Master the details before and during the launch of major project. Do not make key decisions without the relevant facts and details. I like to put it as: Do your homework.
  • Stay in touch with the little things -- Don't lose touch -- especially as you ascend the hierarchy.
  • Attention to details does not mean analysis paralysis.
  • Discipline in details is discipline in strategy.

Powell's Rules for Recruiting and Promoting

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, an balanced ego and the drive to get things done.

  • Intelligence and judgement: People needs to be bright to handle complexity in data, people, tech, or ideas and also need to decisively choose and appropriate course of action.
  • anticipate: People who can see and understand the future, grasp emerging shifts in tech, competitors, markets, demographics, consumer needs, and launch something new based on their understanding.
  • Loyalty: This quote explains his view on loyalty: When we are debating an isue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I'll like it or not. Disagreement, at this state, stimulates me. But once a decision is made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.
  • Integrity: People with integrity stand for something bigger than themselves -- a purpose, or a cor set of values and ideas -- and their actions honestly reflect their convictions.
  • Drive: Find people who live urgency -- people who feel that there is no one moment to lose.
  • Balanced ego: Ego balance implies self-awareness, know when to blast ahead, know when to pause and regroup, when to enlist new allies with complementary skills.