Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lessons on Leadership by General Colin Powell (Part - I)

General Colin Powell is known to most of us. He was excelled in his career in the US Army, to rise to the position of Commander - United Forces Command, and later Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After retirement from the Army, he served his Country as the 65th Secretary of State under President George Bush.

Genl Powell's presentation on Leadership is an invaluable lesson on the subject. Here's the summary

Lesson 1 - "Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off...."

Good leadership means looking after the welfare of the people you lead. And this means that some people can sometimes get people angry at your actions and decisions. This is inevitable if you are honorable.

A leader has to focus on what or who is right. Trying to please people is a sign of mediocrity. The right choices can many times be the tough choice. By procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying hard not to get anyone mad, and by trying to be nice to most people regardless of their contributions, you will ensure that the only ones angered are the most productive and creative in your team.

Lesson 2 - "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems, is the day you've stopped leading them.They have lost confidence that you can help them, or they have concluded that you don't care. Either way it's a failure of leadership"

As Genl Powell say - "if this were a litmus test, most CEOs would fail'. Because they build a culture where even the idea of a junior person looking up for help is ridiculous. Or, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness.

Real leaders though expecting high standards of performance, also show concern for the problems and challenges their men face. The result is a culture of problem analysis rather than 'blame'

Lesson 3 - "Don't be afraid to challenge the pros - even in their own backyard"

Learn from the pros, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember even the pros level out in terms of their learning and skills. Pros can also become complacement and lazy.
Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Good leadership encourages every one's evolution.

Lesson 4 - " Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be doubly vigilant".

Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in this World are useless if they are not implemented rapidly and efficiently. And while leader delegate and empower generously, they must pay attention to detail.

Lesson 5 - "You don't know what you can get away with, until you try"

It is said that it's easier to seek forgiveness than permission. Good leaders do not wait for 'official' blessings before trying things out. But they are prudent - not reckless.
Less effective leaders believe "If I haven't been told 'yes' - I cannot do it". Good Leaders believe "If I haven't been told 'No' - I can do it" There's a World of a difference in these two points of view.

Lesson 6 - "Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find"

"if it ain't broke don't fix it" is the slogan of the complacent, arrogant and the scared. It's an excuse for inaction. This sort of mindset assumes today's realities will continue tomorrow in a linear, predictable fashion. In this kind of culture you won't find people who proactively solve problems as they emerge

(To be continued...)

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