Former Secretary of State and GW alumnus Colin Powell, right, spoke with School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno at Lisner Auditorium on Monday. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
With his memoir in their hands, hundreds listened as Colin Powell described his journey from growing up in the Bronx to leading the State Department at Lisner Auditorium on Monday.
Powell’s second memoir, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” includes his “Thirteen Rules” of leadership and conduct – first published in Parade Magazine in 1989. The former Secretary of State, the first black man to take that post, discussed the rules that served him best throughout his career and during his toughest times in office.
Here are the key takeaways from the evening.
1. Optimism is an attitude, not a prediction
“It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning” is Powell’s first rule, and one that he continually referred to during his conversation with School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno.
Powell, who received a master of business administration from GW in 1971, said he has surrounded himself during his government career with people who share his motivation and optimism to finish the task at hand.
“It will look better in the morning. Well, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. It might be worse,” Powell said, prompting laughs from the audience. “It’s an attitude that’s helpful to you, it’s an attitude that’s helpful to your organization.”
Powell shared the rules that served him best through his career. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
2. You’re born a leader
Powell noted that while growing up in the Bronx he never imagined he would become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, but he recognized the skills he possessed that would help him find success.
“I think you’re born with a certain empathy for people and a certain ability to influence people,” Powell said.
Powell added that leadership skills aren’t only reserved for those in positions of power.
“You don’t have to be running a division or a company to be a leader,” he said. “You can be a leader in a very small segment of your life.”
3. Leadership is about people
No matter your role, it is not the organization, a powerpoint presentation or a philosophy that will get things done, the retired four-star Army general said.
“It is people,” he said.
Powell said he has found that working with those who have had similar experiences as him, like people who also come from immigrant families, inspires him.
Powell also mentioned the leadership skills of President Barack Obama, praising the president for his ability to mobilize people toward certain tasks.
“Leadership is all about inspiring a group of people to achieve what needs to be achieved,” Powell said. “Motivation is OK, but I want people inspired. When you inspire them, they will do what you want them to do.”