The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

Work Study

ISSN: 0043-8022

Article publication date: 1 September 2002



(2002), "The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell", Work Study, Vol. 51 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

Oren HarariMcGraw-HillISBN 0071388591£16.99

Colin Powell rose from military leadership – as General Powell – to government office and a place on the international stage – as Secretary of State Powell. As the child of Jamaican immigrants, he joined the US army only a short time after it became racially integrated in 1952. The southern states of the USA where he served in the early 1960s were not integrated and yet, despite a background of indignities, he rose to be a four star general: a towering achievement of true merit, rewarded by his current office.

His autobiography My American Journey suggests that Powell is modest and unassuming and it is therefore unlikely that he would have written this book. It has taken Oren Harari, Professor of Management Studies at the University of San Francisco, to take Powell's experiences and use them as the basis of a series of leadership lessons.

Of course, the "secrets" referred to in the title are not very well hidden ones – the lessons in this book have been around for some time. This book simply puts a different slant on them – and uses Powell's experiences to illustrate them.

The 18 principles, with an explanation of how they apply to business, were the subject of a magazine article as long ago as 1996. This was reproduced all over the world and today it is still possible to find dozens of references to it on the Web. In fact it was the interest that the article caused that led Harari to expand it into this book, and to clarify the relationship to the business world.

It is obvious, and not surprising, that much of Powell's thinking is conditioned by his army background. This makes the "translation" from this background to one of business an important consideration in deciding whether the "secrets" here are truly generic.

The military is a strict and regular hierarchy. This mirrors a number of business structures, although business has become less hierarchical over the last decade, and certainly less overtly structured and formal. However, the US army is a massive "business" – its "turnover" will be in the region of $400 billion this year – and there must be – indeed are – lessons that can be transferred from one "system" to the other.

This book is not authorised by Colin Powell. Harari has researched Powell's speeches and comments to draw out the leadership lessons. One of Powell's principles is: "Let leaders lead: don't become over reliant on experts and elitists." In the wake of the Enron debacle, this looks like sound advice! Similarly: "Untidy truth is better than smooth lies."

This book offers more such common-sense – though revealing advice – presented in ways which clearly explain the "lesson" or "the secret".

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