Reading Time: 2 minutes

My book review this week is on Colin Powell’s book,  It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership. Much of the book draws on his military background, and I often wonder how the unique military experience changes my recommendations for how businesses should operate.

For example, he notes that leaders should never ignore mistakes. And he talks about uniforms not being proper or quarters not being up to standards. I understand his point. But if an administrative assistant, or a senior executive makes a low impact mistake, is it really necessary to address it? We are all human. We all make honest mistakes. Do we have to hear about every single one? I’m inclined to believe that we are better off focusing on the good, and addressing systemic problems.

Some takeaways from the book include:

  • Loyal people can disagree vehemently and still execute the plan when the time comes. Focus on finding the best solution. (p. 14)
  • “You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.” (p. 21)
  • “Purpose is the destination of a vision. It energizes that vision, gives it force and drive. It should be positive and powerful, and serve the better angels of an organization….. Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire every follower at every level to internalize their purpose, and to understand that their purpose goes far beyond the mere details of their job.” I’ve written about this plenty – so I think letting Powell’s words speak for themselves is best. (p. 34)
  • I particularly liked his story about a documentary on the Empire State Building. When a cleaning person was interviewed at the end, about what he did, his response was: “Our job is to make sure that tomorrow morning when people from all over the world come to this wonderful building, it shines, it is clean, and it looks great.”
  • Leaders need to ask themselves “where on the battlefield?” You need to understand where you need to be to make the soundest decisions. Where can you best see what is going on? Where can you best shape the outcome? (p. 82)
  • The military uses “After Action Reviews” (AAR) – not as a fact finding mission to assign blame, but as a way to learn and improve. (p. 226) Project leaders should be doing the same thing.