Colin Powell’s ‘It Worked For Me: In Life And Leadership’ – 13 Powerful Lessons


Once in a blue moon, a book comes along that gives us startling new insights. It worked for me: In life and Leadership is that book; its hard work, straight talk, respect for others, and thoughtful analysis. Colin Powell is an uncommon man with the common touch. He likes to give speeches because he’s very good at it and he doesn’t mind travelling. Also, he likes meeting people who have paid to hear some of his considerable wisdom and perhaps to shake the hand that has shaken the hand of every important world leader of the past quarter-century.

In this book, the distinguished General, former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser distil the ideas and anecdotes that he has honed before flocks of well-fed listeners who work for multi-national organizations.

Aside from the rich history Gen. Powell gives, he also distils aphoristic principles out of anecdotes from adolescent summer jobs, military commands, diplomatic furores, and celebrity encounters. He summarised these principles right in chapter one– where you can’t help but look at them—in what he calls 13 Reasons Why. No, sorry, they’re dubbed 13 Rules.


Colin Powell’s book – Image from

It’s a good time to remind every one of his rules for life and leadership. Entrepreneurs, in particular, need to focus on #13.

  1. It isn’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. This rule reflects an attitude and not a prediction. I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up, no matter how difficult the situation. Things will get better. You will make them better.
  2. Get mad, then get over it. I’ve worked hard over the years to make sure that when I get mad, I get over it quickly and never lose control of myself.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it. Accept that your position was faulty, not your ego. Loyalty is disagreeing strongly, and loyalty is executing faithfully.
  4. It can be done! Don’t surround yourself with instant sceptics. At the same time, don’t shut out sceptics and colleagues who give you solid counterviews.
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it. Don’t rush into things.
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. Superior leadership is often a matter of superb instinct. Often, the factual analysis alone will indicate the right choice. More often, your judgment will be needed to select from the best courses of action.
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. Since ultimate responsibility is yours, make sure the choice is yours and you are not responding to the pressure and desire of others.
  8. Check small things. Success ultimately rests on small things, lots of small things. Leaders have to have a feel for small things—a feel for what is going on in the depths of an organization where small things reside. The followers, the troops, live in a world of small things. Leaders must find ways, formal and informal, to get visibility into that world.
  9. Share credit. People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water. Share the credit, take the blame, and quietly find out and fix things that went wrong. Whenever you place the cause of one of your actions outside yourself, it’s an excuse and not a reason.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind. In the “heat of the battle”—whether military or corporate—kindness, like calmness, reassures followers and holds their confidence. Kindness connects you with other human beings in a bond of mutual respect. If you care about your followers and show them kindness, they will recognize and care for you.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding. The purpose is the destination of a vision. It energizes that vision, gives it force and drives. It should be positive and powerful and serve the better angels of an organization.
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers. Fear is a normal human emotion. It is not in itself a killer. We can learn to be aware when fear grips us and can train to operate through and in spite of our fear. If, on the other hand, we don’t understand that fear is normal and has to be controlled and overcome, it will paralyze us and stop us in our tracks. We will no longer think clearly or analyse rationally. We prepare for it and control it; we never let it control us. If it does, we cannot lead.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. Perpetual optimism, believing in yourself, believing in your purpose, believing you will prevail, and demonstrating passion and confidence is a force multiplier. If you believe and have prepared your followers, the followers will believe.

This book is an interesting read and a book you should consider getting for your book collection.

Looking for some great reads. Check out 5 Books You Should Read For Some Great Business Advice

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