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General Colin Powell on Leadership

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Colin Powell: General (four-star) in the Unite...
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Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand. ~Colin Powell

Today I had the privilege of hearing General Colin Powell speak on leadership.  A man who describes himself this way, “I was born in Harlem, raised in the South Bronx, went to public school, got out of public college, went into the Army, and then I just stuck with it,” has certainly made his mark on the world.  Here’s what his advice is on being an effective leader as I heard it today.

1.  Focus on the followers. Clarify for them, “What is our goal?  What is our purpose?”  Have a positive purpose.  Be someone who is selfless.  Know that it is always about the followers and it is never about the leader.

2.  Take care of the troops. Get them everything they need to carry out the goal.  Do they need computers?  Better lighting?  Different tools?  More training?  Ask them what they need and then show them you care about getting it for them.  This will help inspire them and motivate them towards the common goal.  Once you do that, they will be self-motivated.  Have high standards.

3.  Recognize good performance. Recognizing good performance doesn’t have to be done through awards, money or ceremonies.  He shared a story of how he always carried around 4×6 index cards and a felt tip pen.  If he saw someone doing a great job, he would leave a note on their desk for them when they weren’t there.  Many times he would stop back by their desk and find it was framed.  A small investment of recognition or kind words goes a long way.

4.  Don’t let bad followers hold your organization back.  If you have given someone the training, motivation, and common goal, and they still are not latching on to the mission, don’t be afraid to let them go.

5.  Make a human connection with everyone. Everyone is important.  Treat them that way.  Leadership is about trust.  It is the lubricant that keeps the troops moving forward.

These are great tips on leadership but if you stop here it will be of no effect. What action will you take today?  Could you start by buying a stack of 4×6 cards and recognizing people who do a good job by writing them a quick note? Could you start by clarifying a common goal to get everyone on the same track?  What about asking your employees what they need to help them better fulfill their tasks?  Is there someone who is draining your organization that you know you need to let go?  How could you show your children they are important to you?  Whether you are leading a team of people in a company, heading up a not-for-profit organization, teaching children in a classroom or parenting, start something new today.  Your followers will be glad you did!