The Powell Principles

To become a more effective leader, check out Colin Powell's secrets

Let me say from the outset that I recommend Oren Harari’s book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (McGraw-Hill, $21.95). However, there are two ways to read this book. The first is the traditional way: simply, from the table of contents at the front of the book to the appendix at the back. The second is to jump straight to the appendix, “Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer” and then read the “Powell Principles” identified at the end of each chapter. Having read the book from cover to cover, I strongly recommend the latter approach.

When it comes to models for leadership, it’s difficult to do better than Powell. In fact, in the eyes of many, the U.S. secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is rapidly approaching living-legend status. And his leadership principles, while not necessarily original (although the author relies heavily on Powell’s unique way of expressing them), do not disappoint. In fact, it could be easily argued that most effective leaders, in all walks of life, follow Powell’s principles.

Harari, an author, consultant, and professor of management at the University of San Francisco’s McLaren College of Business, first goes through great pains to make it clear to the reader what the book is not meant to be. It’s not a biography (although a brief bio of Powell is included). It’s not a book by Powell. Harari authored the book on his own, although he relies heavily on public statements made by Powell, as well as letters, documents, e-mails, voicemails, and other communications resulting from his “friendly and professional” relationship with Powell. Finally, the book is not a tribute to the retired four-star Army general.

Harari’s goal is to produce a “battle-tested” leadership book, using Powell’s philosophies and experiences as a model. To accomplish this, he expands upon 18 “Powell gems” covered in the book’s appendix, “Quotations from Chairman Powell,” which was originally published as an article in the December 1996 issue of Management Review. The advice–ranging from knowing when to “piss people off” and paying attention to the details, to putting people over plans and recognizing the power of optimism–is solid. However, more is not necessarily better, and, in this case, the relative value of The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell just does not measure up to Harari’s original article.

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