The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell / Edition 1

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One of Booklist's Top 10 Business Books of 2002 and a BusinessWeek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today business bestseller

"Management professor Oren Harari adopts Colin Powell's rise into the upper ranks of American power as a model for decision makers in the private sector. Harari hails Powell's character as the essence of a host of supple executive virtues, from defining and defending rational objectives to playing the provocateur against outdated modes of boardroom thinking."--The Washington Post

"Powell appears to be a natural born leader with an intuitive sense of strategy for advancement in war and politics. For those of us who are not so lucky to have such diplomacy inherently, Harari's book can teach us how to lead effectively following Powell's example."--USA Today

"This is a 'battle-tested' leadership book and although the author has shown how to apply these principles in the corporate venue, you don't have to be a CEO to benefit from the words and wisdom of Colin Powell."--Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Born in Harlem, raised in the Bronx, the son of immigrant parents, a Vietnam veteran, the recipient of many military and civilian awards, and one of our highest-ranking government officials, Colin Powell epitomizes the American ideal of the self-made individual. Several years ago, Oren Harari used his monthly column in Management Review to distill Powell's many speeches and ideas into 18 leadership principles that could enable any person, no matter how large or small their role in life, to further their quest for success. Passed from reader to reader, disseminated over the Internet, and eventually covered by The Wall Street Journal in a front-page story, Harari's article was an undisputed success -- and led to the creation of this engaging and informative book. While Harari was completing his manuscript, the devastating attacks of September 11th occurred, prompting him, after a period of grief, to revise his principles so that they could accommodate everything he learned while watching Powell assemble a diverse international coalition. The resulting book, therefore, contains a detailed expansion of the original journal article, as well as much new material gleaned from Powell's senior role in the global struggle to eliminate terrorism. If you're looking for leadership advice, you will appreciate the many sound and sometimes counterintuitive insights that Harari presents throughout this book.

If I had to choose a single word to suggest a common theme underlying all of the principles Harari has gathered, I would select "integrity." Whether encouraging people to "dis-organize" accepted procedures, insisting on accountability throughout all levels of an organization, or never failing to pay attention to the details, Powell emerges from this book as a leader who invests whatever he does with a deeply personal sense of integrity. Although this book isn't a paean to its subject (Harari does discuss the criticisms of Powell that have been recently advanced), it is an inspiring look at the ideas and habits of a man whose accomplishments are nothing short of amazing. (Sunil Sharma)

Publishers Weekly
Even before the events of last fall, Powell was well regarded by the military and civilians around the world. Now, as secretary of state during the war against terrorism, Powell's intelligence and skills as manager, negotiator and leader are even more visible. Harari, a management professor and consultant, met Powell several years ago, but wrote this book without his cooperation. The author has used Powell's own words, from his autobiography and presentations, to create a primer of Powell's leadership secrets. The book reads much like an introductory textbook, explaining key phrases, quotes, anecdotes and principles. Powell's style is somewhat unusual for a military leader. He believes in listening, not just to superiors, but to the people who serve under him; he pushes people to ask hard questions and to approach problems in creative ways; he is solution-oriented and wants answers to problems to be original, not simply tried-and-true methods. While a book by Powell himself on his leadership style would obviously have great appeal, Harari has done an admirable job of distilling the essence of Powell's leadership style. The chapter summaries ("Powell's Principles") are especially clear (e.g., "Hire on talent and values, rather than resumes"; "Don't clock hours for hours' sake"). This is a solid if basic book about leadership that should interest a wide range of readers, especially less experienced managers. Agent, Lynn Johnston. (Mar. 25) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Guiding Principles for The 21st Century Leader
Citing the spirit of leadership of Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., Dennis Romig, author of Side by Side Leadership, offers leaders and followers ways they can work together and create outstanding performance gains. His ideas are rooted in seven leadership principles, which include the following:
  • Interaction Fields - leaders create new resources by pulling in and creatively combining resources from outside interaction fields;
  • Focused Creativity - new ideas allow people to increase quality and productivity without working harder or longer;
  • Proven Knowledge - knowledge and experience can help select the best of the proposed ideas for improving performance;
  • Transferred Authority - when workers have the authority to make the improvements they see in their work area without waiting for upper-management approval, the benefits are realized faster.
  • Two-way communication, shared visionary goals, participation from all team members in decision-making and delegated authority round out the seven Side by Side Leadership principles.

    Why Soundview Likes This Book
    Side by Side Leadership provides excellent food for thought for those who are looking for inspirational leadership wisdom. While describing the benefits and difficulties faced by managers, supervisors and leaders at all levels of any kind of organization, the author takes the concept of leadership off its pedestal and shares the most important attributes and qualities that bring leaders success, respect and loyalty. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071418614
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/18/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 278
  • Sales rank: 111,327
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business, University of San Francisco.

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Read an Excerpt


“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

COLIN POWELL, the nation’s former number-one soldier and current number-one statesman, is above all a gentleman. He’s unfailingly polite -- the very embodiment of civility. I would be surprised if he ever applauded the management styles of Darth Vader (Star Wars) or “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap (multiple corporate dismemberments). Simply put, Powell is not interested in intimidating people. Why? Because, as well as being a gentleman, he also is convinced that frightened people don’t take initiative or responsibility, and that their organizations suffer as a result. And yet this same Colin Powell is perfectly prepared to make people angry, even really angry, in pursuit of organizational excellence. His explanation for this seeming inconsistency is pithy: “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” Let’s take a closer look at how Powell’s personal comportment as a gentleman and a team player fits together with his sense of responsibility as a leader. At the same time, let’s get a clearer sense of the organizational realities to which he is alluding when he talks about “pissing people off.”

YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE Effective leadership is exercised across a full spectrum of responsibilities, and also over time. Across an entire organization, involving a wide variety of people engaged in a multitude of tasks (both concurrently and in sequence), the leader must spark high performance and ensure the welfare of the group. Well, that’s complicated. Even if the leader manages to get everybody happy with today’s reality, somebody’s very likely to get off the bus tomorrow. A leader simply cannot please everyone all the time.

Making people mad was part of being a leader. As I had learned long ago . . . an individual’s hurt feelings run a distant second to the good of the service.

Leadership can’t be a popularity contest. Trying not to offend anyone, or trying to get everyone to like you, will set you on the road to mediocrity. Why? Because leaders who are afraid to make people angry are likely to waver and procrastinate when it comes time to make tough choices. Leaders who care more about being liked than about being effective are unlikely to confront the people who need confronting. They are unlikely to offer differential rewards based on perfor-mance. They won’t challenge the status quo. And inevitably, by not challenging tradition, they hurt both their own credibility and their organization’s performance. Powell learned this lesson in his first leadership position: as company commander of the Pershing Rifles, his ROTC military society at City College of New York. All of CCNY’s ROTC societies (like ROTC programs throughout the region) competed at a regional meet each year for various awards. Powell hoped that his Pershing Rifles would win both the regular and the trick drill competitions at the regional meet. As the meet approached, however, he began to hear discouraging comments about the student he had chosen to lead the trick drill routine. The student was distracted by girlfriend troubles, he was told, and had lost his edge. Powell’s problem was that he was friendly with this student, and so, although he talked to him about the negative feedback he was hearing, he decided not to relieve him of his leadership position. Predictably, the Pershing Rifles lost the trick drill competition -- although they won the regular drill competition, under Powell’s leadership -- and Powell realized that his unwillingness to relieve his friend of command had cost the Pershing Rifles their second medal. The issue is far deeper and more pervasive than a personnel problem. Organizations, like people, get into ruts. As the environment continuously changes around them -- with new technologies, new demographics, new competitors, new consumer expectations, new waves of deregulation and globalization, and so on -- organizations get stale. Systems, processes, and cultures become calcified. People get comfortable with what they know, and they fend off the unfamiliar. “Not invented here” (NIH) takes root, and the organization settles into a comfortable, backward-looking mindset. Nostalgia and rigidity get woven into the fabric of the organization. This is a big problem, and it is one of the reasons why more than half of the companies that appeared on the 1980 Fortune 500 list no longer exist. They were big, dominant, and resource-rich -- and they couldn’t adapt. The fresh and compelling ideas came from their scrappier, faster-moving competitors.A few years ago, a vice president of a faltering Fortune 500 company told me ruefully that his company’s financial swoon was due primarily to one factor: “We’ve got years of tradition, unmarred by progress.” Carly Fiorina echoed this sentiment a year after taking the helm of HP in 1999, when she described the company’s biggest challenge as a culture marked by “a gentle bureaucracy of entitlement and consensus.” This is the kind of environment that Colin Powell, gentle and gentlemanly as he is, is perfectly willing to disrupt for the greater good.

I’ll be frank. From time to time, I’m going to make you mad as hell. CHANGE RUFFLES FEATHERS

Because Powell’s career has been all about change, change is a central focus of this book. As we will see, changing things inevitably makes some people upset -- even angry. But the fact is that external change is endemic, proliferating, and accelerating. In such a context, good leaders defy conventional wisdom. They constantly prod their people with “what if?” and “why not?” questions. They engender a climate of let’s-try-it experimentation, demand innovative initiatives from people, and reward performance. And, yes, along the way they definitely piss some people off. Think about the pace of change that has prevailed in the last decade or so. Before the mid-1990s, few people were using e-mail, and few were even aware of something called the “World Wide Web.” People did business by phone, fax, and FedEx. Then that world got turned upside down. As a new reality set in, a certain percentage of people simply chose to dig in their heels. Here’s Powell’s comment on exactly this subject: the tendency of some people to fend off the new realities of a digital world by rejecting new technologies:

I’ll bet you right now that there’s no established organization where you won’t find somebody who says . . . I know what I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years, and you’re not going to screw me up.

That’s absolutely true. And the leader’s role, in this situation, is to overcome institutional (and individual) inertia. Pissed-off people are the inevitable result of challenging the status quo. In fact, they may be the best indicator that the leader is on the right track.
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Table of Contents


Part I: The Defiant Powell
Chapter 1: Don't be afraid to "piss people off"
Chapter 2: Foster a "clash of ideas"
Chapter 3: Maintain distance between your ego and your position
Chapter 4: Push the envelope
Chapter 5: Look beyond the surface and face the truth
Chapter 6: Challenge professionals on their home court

Part II: Powell on Strategy and Execution
Chapter 7: Keep mission simple, the message clear
Chapter 8: People-not plans-execute
Chapter 9: Master details to gain an edge
Chapter 10: Beware of experts and elitists
Chapter 11: Let situation dictate strategy
Chapter 12: Talent-not resumes-drives performance
Chapter 13: Trust the leader in the trenches

Part III: The Powell Character
Chapter 14: The Powell Way
Chapter 15: Optimism is a "force multiplier"
Chapter 16: Take work seriously, not yourself
Chapter 17: Prepare for loneliness

Epilogue: Powell on the first war of the 21st century
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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
In December 1996, I wrote my monthly column for Management Review. It was entitled "Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer." I selected 18 short leadership principles espoused by the then-retired General Powell and showed leaders in the private and public sector how they could use them in their own work.

Two years later, Powell phoned me and asked, "Are you aware of the stir your article is causing?" Apparently, it was being reproduced like wildfire in government departments and military bases.

Soon, I became deluged with reprint requests from managers around the world. Blue-chip corporations used the article for leadership seminars. The Wall Street Journal covered the article in a page one story. Over 40 web sites featured it. Powell wrote me that during his first NATO meeting as secretary of state, his European colleagues brought it up.

Since Colin Powell is one of the most recognized and respected leaders on earth, it is not surprising that people are eager to absorb his lessons. Accordingly, my original article became the genesis of the book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. I kept 16 of the original principles and wrote a chapter commentary on each one. The Powell principles are timeless gems of wisdom, like "Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off"; "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them"; "You don't know what you can get away with until you try"; "Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing"; "The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise"; "Optimism is a force multiplier"; "Command is lonely" -- among others. What I do in the book is tell leaders and would-be leaders in all organizations -- from Fortune 500 corporations to local volunteer groups -- how they can apply those gems to their own situation. In the wake of the September 11th tragedy, I have also written how Powell and his colleagues are applying these principles in the war against global terrorism, and how leaders in all organizations can use these same principles in times of extreme change and duress.

This book is neither a biography nor an autobiography. I've focused on the nuts-and-bolts, practical applications of real-life leadership, primarily using Powell's career experiences, style, and philosophy as he grappled with challenges in Vietnam, Iraq, the Soviet Union, Panama, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and within the military and State Department in the U.S. I also periodically weave in the like-minded approaches of other effective leaders like Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Patricia Dunn, Michael Dell, and others. There are numerous vivid anecdotes and passages with hands-on leadership advice. The result is not only an inspiring book but also a very pragmatic "battle-tested" book. (Oren Harari)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2005

    One of the Best

    This book is one of the best books on leadership I have ever read. Colin Powell is a great leader and this book teaches you the important thing about being a leader. I really could not put the book down and if I did it was all I thought about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2002

    Highly Recommended!

    Perhaps no political leader in the United States is more widely respected than Colin Powell, decorated soldier, architect of the 1991 U.S. victory over Iraq, former presidential contender and current Secretary of State. Using anecdotes and quotations from Powell¿s life, management professor Oren Harari distills leadership philosophies and methods that can be applied to business. The book is written in a short, pithy style, reflecting Powell¿s own direct approach. While the principles Harari uncovers are not innovative, they are comprehensive and practical. Charged with maintaining an international coalition in the ongoing war on terrorism, Powell has been thrust into one of the world¿s most important leadership roles. For this reason alone, we from getAbstract recommend Harari¿s book for its insight into the man¿s leadership philosophies, which have had a profound influence on U.S. military and government organizations.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    Go Full Bore on What¿s Needed . . . with Integrity!

    When the history of the last two decades is written in 50 years, I wouldn¿t be surprised if our secretary of state, Colin Powell, turns out to be the pivotal leader whose career crystallizes U.S. government foreign policy into new and more constructive directions. Since I have been an adult, no leader has affected me more. The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell is the first book I have seen which looks at Mr. Powell as a leader, as opposed to writing a biography about him. As a first go at the subject, I was impressed. Professor Harari also does all of us a great favor by including as many examples as possible since September 11, 2001 so that the book is extremely fresh and timely. There are, of course, many examples drawn from his military career culminating in creating the new-style military of the post Cold War world. Professor Harari extracted 16 key principles about leadership style, setting and executing strategy, and character from Mr. Powell¿s many pithy public quotes. Each one becomes a chapter. Subsections are organized around other quotes in most cases, and there is a chapter summary and listing of key chapter principles at the end of each chapter. Very interesting anecdotes from Mr. Powell¿s career fill in to the support the subsections, buttressed with examples from outstanding business leaders like Jack Welch. If you are like me, there will be few surprises in the list. These are factors that many leadership books talk about. On the other hand, expect to come away impressed with the single-mindedness with which Mr. Powell seeks out what needs to be done, and then pursues that mission with all of the tenacity, integrity, and leadership skill he can muster. Mr. Powell obviously pursues his leadership responsibilities with the zeal that most of us reserve for eating our favorite dessert. Mr. Powell is one in a million. We are indeed fortunate to have him as one of our country¿s top leaders at a time of great challenge for the United States. Much of the book comes from public sources. Mr. Powell was not a participant in writing the book. The author does have a professional relationship with Mr. Powell, which helped provide opportunities for chats from which material is drawn for the book. Since many of the quotes are from Mr. Powell¿s autobiography, those who want to know more about the man should definitely read that book if they have not already. Overall, I came away with a great respect for Mr. Powell¿s sense of balance and self-discipline. He can follow or give an order equally well. In either case, he uses great common sense to ensure that the right result occurs while observing the niceties of tradition and order . . . until they get in the way of accomplishing what needs to be done. His ability to be consumed with facts without micromanaging has to be virtually unique in my experience. He is also terrific at setting an intriguing and inspiring example. I came away thinking that we need to ensure that the lessons of this great career are well understood and employed by the generations to come. Thanks to Professor Harari, we have a good start in that direction. Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2011

    Great book

    Everyone can learn from this book.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Insightful and Powerful

    This book really looks at how Colin Powell became the leader he is. His personal approach to dealing with troops, subordinates, world leasders and war, is incredibly interesting. This book has inspired me to follow true to what I know is right and strive to become a better leader.

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    Posted November 30, 2008

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