Colin Powell leadership lessons

veteran’s corner

Tom Krabbenhoft

A friend and I were reflecting on a recently lost brother we both served with 30 years ago. This led us to talk of some of the officers that went on to become generals. Most of them are very good respected leaders. This led to us having faith in our structure of leadership.

My 28 year military career was unique as I spent almost equal time in two services. I started out working in a TOC (Tactical Operations Center) the brain and nerve center of any army element. Leadership in a Combat Arms element is a thoughtful and deliberate process. The officers will eat after the troops do. They will never benefit or take something before the troops have. A leader that does take something before his soldiers is more concerned with their needs. Rommel was a master of mirroring troops conditions. He knew the exact limits his army would stretch.

Colin Powell readings and takes of leadership have always captivated me.

Great leaders would never let you know they did not care. Colin Powell the General was one of the best Generals we had. Great leaders view Leadership as problem solving. The first great quote from him:

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.”

He also believed Great leaders are simplifiers. Any of us can pick up a stick and use it. The same cannot be said for a tank or airplane.

Another gem from him:

“Never get so close to your position that when the position goes, your ego goes with it.”

Everyone has seen that person that ascends to a leadership position. They will wear it as noticeably as a zit on the nose. The worse dictators in history exhibit this trait. They will give themselves titles, and rewrite the existing constitution or start adding by laws into documents to cover weak leadership traits.

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

Succession doesn’t breed success. We have all seen the person that steps into something very successful and run it into the ground. I was told once “its talent not time”. “If you can’t do the job don’t ask for it”. “Draw your own blueprint, don’t use someone else’s”.

These last 3 quotes I’ve carried from different leaders in my life.

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

I asked a superior once if it hurt when his sense of humor was removed. And yes that did not play out well for me. Some leaders focus on taking themselves so seriously it leads to missing what you are there for.

“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.”

This quote circles back around to the first quote. Leadership is about problem solving. Solve problems while there is still time to solve them. Problems have two sides.

Mark Thorpe, my recently passed ADA brother. I’ll see you on the other side.


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