Optimistic leadership: what works for Colin Powell

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, President of MAP Professional Development Inc., and Founder of Spark!

“High-performing, successful organizations build cultures of introspection and trust and never lose sight of their purpose,” writes Colin Powell in his latest book, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership. This outstanding resource is packed with simple but poignant leadership lessons, which Powell brings to life with stories from his extraordinary career path.

Powell - It Worked For MeIt Worked For Me, which I would describe as part memoir/part leadership guide, opens with Powell’s “Thirteen Rules” – the overarching principles that have guided arguably one of the most influential leaders of our time. From “Share Credit” to “Get Mad, Then Get Over It,” he offers the guidelines that served him as he rose to four-star general in the U.S. Army and eventually to Secretary of State, with many other notable milestones.

Throughout the book, Powell places a hefty emphasis on one critical, but often overlooked, leadership principle: Optimism. “I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up,” says Powell, “no matter how difficult the situation.” Sharing stories from his military experience, he demonstrates how “perpetual optimism” strengthens the success of individuals as well as an overall organization, which research by Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, and others clearly supports.

Yet although Powell clearly favors hoping for the best, he doesn’t suggest putting on blinders and ignoring realities. With characteristic wit he writes, “I try to be an optimist, but I try not to be stupid.”

I wore out a highlighter on It Worked For Me, so narrowing down to three takeaways proved quite challenging! Here are key guidelines that you can apply to your current leadership role as well as build upon for future roles:

1. Insist on clarity.

Powell always held high, specific expectations of his team but also insisted on making those expectations extremely clear. He describes conversations with new staff, warning them that the first few weeks will include continuous correction and nitpicking but will ultimately lead to success. Leadership experts consistently emphasize this need for clarity; in her outstanding bestseller Reality-Based Leadership, Cy Wakeman goes so far as to state that ambiguity is the source of all conflict. Have high expectations, but make them very clear. Set up your team for success

2. Hire for potential, not just performance.

While past performance offers the backdrop, it doesn’t necessarily predict future success. Powell lists several characteristics he would look for in new hires including competence, intelligence, and previous accomplishments but also qualities like “toughness with empathy” and “ability to inspire.” Look for a superb track record of success, but gauge for future potential.

3. Always be kind.

Kindness, this decorated military leader explains, isn’t “being soft or a wuss,” nor is it a weakness. On the contrary, kindness shows confidence.“Taking care of employees is perhaps the best form of kindness,” Powell concludes. Choose kindness. Always.

I found Powell’s thoughts on moral courage, true victory, getting over failure, and servant leadership especially fascinating, and his unique positions throughout his career offer a perspective most of us wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.

While you won’t necessarily agree with all of his strategies, the title of the book clearly explains that is not his expectation. Extraordinary leadership stems from influencing authentically: take pointers from those you admire but don’t attempt to mimic them.

Perhaps the most significant point reminds us that although leading others is important, your most important leadership role is that of being the leader in your own life:

Always do your very best. Even if no one else is looking, you always are. Don’t disappoint yourself.

 

What do you believe has made Colin Powell such a celebrated leader? Share your comments below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad, Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, President of MAP Professional Development Inc., and Founder of Spark! Gain more leadership tips from Dr. Christi via Facebook and Twitter.

Hack Attack - New Iowa Law Governing Data Security Breaches

Matthew McKinneyMatt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

From Iowa State University and P.F. Chang's to your town's smallest businesses, hackers are indiscriminate when it comes to attacking computers and networks to access and obtain sensitive consumer data.

Against this very alarming and real backdrop, it is important for businesses of all shapes and sizes not only to take steps to proactively protect consumer data, but also to understand the legal requirements and ramifications if they do not act properly following a data security breach.  

On April 3, 2014, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a new breach notification requirement (amending a prior law), which includes a provision that not only requires businesses to timely notify consumers when certain security breaches occur, but it also requires businesses to notify the Iowa Attorney General's office when more than 500 Iowa residents are impacted by the security breach. Of particular note, failure to comply with Iowa's new breach notification requirement can result in significant monetary and non-monetary penalties being levied against the business.

Consequently, it is important that following a security breach businesses promptly take proper steps, including seeking trusted technical and legal advice to determine the scope of a breach and what, if any, additional action the business must legally take.  If you have any questions regarding the issues outlined above you should contact a licensed attorney or certified security advisor. 

 

How does image influence leadership?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the last in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters.” 

To judge content, whether found in the pages of a book or in the character of a person, we must assign the powerful thinking center of our brain to the task. 

In the case of the book, that occurs when we find the cover engaging enough to open the book and then choose to explore the content. 

In the case of the individual, it occurs when we find our perceptions of the person favorable enough to ask questions, listen, and engage in a healthy interpersonal exchange.  Alas, in an increasingly busy existence we rely more heavily, not less, on shortcuts and first impressions.

Harvard says we form an impression in two seconds, hardly enough time for someone to gauge your competence and capabilities.  What are they forming that impression on?

Ample research shows that people size you up very quickly and make inferences about your competence based on visual qualities such as your height, weight, age, skin color, gender, etc.  The things on this list are not easily changed or influenced yet they have a large impact on how you are perceived by others.

Consider research that reveals:

  • We perceive tall people to be more credible than short people. 
  • We perceive men to be more capable in crisis (particularly a physical crisis) than women. 

There is good news. Your grooming and attire also make a powerful first impression and are completely within your control. Becky Rupiper-Greene_edited-2 

Let’s ask an expert to weigh in with advice.  Becky Rupiper-Greene is Senior Training and Image Consultant for Tero International.  Leaders from diverse industries and geographies look to Becky to help them sharpen their professional images to ensure that a visual misstep doesn’t lead to a career misstep. 

Question:  Shouldn’t business leaders be able to wear whatever they want without being judged on appearance?

Becky says:  Absolutely.  Research continues to clearly indicate, however, that both men and women are judged by their appearance. We’ve all seen talented professionals lose out on a promotion to a seemingly less qualified individual who exudes executive presence – from entry level to C-suite positions. What I have found to be much more effective than focusing on what we should wear and what we should not wear, is to instead commit to looking like an expert in your industry. That will, of course, look completely different for someone working at a creative marketing firm compared to someone at a conservative financial institution.  When you look like an expert at what you do, you will visually command and convey respect.

Question:  Do you believe that women are judged more critically than men on their appearance?

Becky says:  The question itself indicates that we are aware of the unfair reality. Sadly, research done by the Center for Talent Innovation also shows that not only are women judged more harshly, women actually judge other women more harshly on appearance faux pas such as tight clothing.  

We perceive ourselves in our best light. We judge ourselves by our good intentions. Others can’t see our good intentions. They first see the visual image we broadcast to the world and that plays a huge role in how they judge us. Is your visual presence communicating positively for you?  

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.