It Worked for Me by Colin Powell

It Worked for Me by Colin PowellWith Veterans Day tomorrow in these United States, it’s rather appropriate we look at a book by General Colin Powell, one of the more respected modern generals and members of the Bush administration. Powell tends to reflect the moderate realism of the first President Bush than the charge-ahead, damn-the-torpedoes mentality of George W. Bush’s inner circle. Much of this has to do with coming from virtually nothing and rising to the top of the ranks despite never having attended West Point.

It Worked for Me is not so much a memoir, though much of the material is autobiographical, as it is Powell discussing how he became successful and what worked and did not. He does get a few muted digs in at some of his fellow Bush cabinet members, in particular, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. But he is not overtly mean-spirited.

Powell was born to immigrants from Jamaica living in Brooklyn. When he left high school, he went to work for a Pepsi bottler. His hard work found him in roles that had previously been exclusively done by whites. He moved on to a toy manufacturer and impressed the owners. Since it was a family operation, the owner told Powell he would never advance in the company and urged him to go to City College of New York. There, he joined the ROTC program and eventually became a lieutenant in the US Army. The rest is history.

Powell distills the essence of the book in the first few chapters by elaborating on his now-famous 13 Rules, which was culled from several notes he kept on his desk while serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some are common sense, but it amazes me how many leaders (or even “leaders”) fail to heed most of this advice. Like most rules, Powell explains that they don’t always apply, that sometimes reality has other ideas. Following them, however, will make one successful more often than not. That’s the point. They are as follows:

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose.
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision.
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.


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