Colin Powell: Key Quotes from the 65th U.S. Secretary of State

Esteemed statesman and retired four-star general, Colin Powell was the first African American to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. Powell was born in Harlem, NY in 1935 to Jamaican Immigrant parents. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1958, and had joined the military during his stay there. He would eventually earn an MBA from George Washington University, but not until after his second tour in the Vietnam War.

Soon after acquiring his MBA, while his military career continued towards elevated status, Powell became involved with politics. He gained an assignment to the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon Administration, and later, became the assistant to the deputy secretary of defense and the secretary to energy during the Carter Administration. It was also during this time that he was promoted to Major General.

In 1987, Powell became National Security Advisor during the Reagan Administration, and in 1989 was appointed by George H.W. Bush as the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs – the only African American to have ever held that position. Also in 1989, Powell released his “13 Rules of Leadership” in Parade Magazine, which have become widely respected over the past two decades.

Here are some of his most thoughtful ideas on leadership and determination:

1. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.

2. Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.

3. The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you 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.

4. Get mad, then get over it.

5. There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.

6. The freedom to do your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best.

7. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.

8. A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

9. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

10. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through the argument debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.

11. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.

12. The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.

13. If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool.

14. Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves.

15. Fear and failure are always present. Accept them as part of life and learn how to manage these realities. Be scared, but keep going. Being scared is usually transient. It will pass. If you fail, fix the causes and keep going.

When George W. Bush appointed him as the 65th Secretary of State, a position for which he is most well known, Powell emerged in the public eye as a moderate political authority on leadership and determination. His autobiography, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, revealed many insights concerning his military, political, and private life.

About the Author Bill Ringle

Bill Ringle is a CEO, former Apple exec, published author, and angel investor. Through Grow Business Now, he offers strategies and tools to elevate growth for executives and entrepreneurs from more than 46 industries. Bill has conducted nearly 200 podcast interviews on My Quest for the Best, where industry and business leaders share their secrets to success.

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