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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Colin Powell on Leadership

Lesson #16  The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.

Too often, the reverse defines corporate culture.  This is one of the main reasons why leaders like Ken Iverson of Nucor Steel, Percy Barnevik of Asea Brown Boveri, and Richard Branson of Virgin have kept their corporate staffs to a bare-bones minimum-how about fewer than 100 central corporate staffers for global $30 billion-plus ABB? Or around 25 and 3 for multi-billion Nucor and Virgin, respectively?  Shift the power and the financial accountability to the folks who are bringing in the beans, not the ones who are counting or analyzing them.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This could go on forever.

Larry James said...

Anon 8:40, I'm really sorry to be such a disappointment to you. However, there are a number of people who come to this site looking for insights and tips on managing organizations. I have few more of General Powell's principles, so bear with me or just don't bother to come here.

Anonymous said...

These are awesome. Keep 'em coming.

Anonymous said...

Here's my general critique: Powell confuses personal experience with general principles. His leadership advice lacks context - organizational behavior is understood in terms of individual behavior, group behavior, and system level (macro) behavior. When a highly experienced individual provides advice (a good thing) s/he should target the advice to one of the three contexts, as noted above. Powell doesn't do this.

Here is a specific criticism: Some of his leadership advice is mere tautology. "Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done." So I guess that means the followers can be unintelligent, lack judgment, can't think beyond the next sentence, and can imagine what might happen next? Maybe Powell's advice applies to leaders and non leaders alike - which renders his advice on leadership null.

Powell's advice is both true and naive. That's what makes it worthless. He was a good soldier. He followed rules extremely well, which led to his promotion in the Army. Good for him. But I don't trust his advice on leadership outside a context that sets up people for promotion based upon narrow mission parameters, fixed budgets, a context that demands loyalty from followers regardless of who is in charge, and low risk - and by low risk I mean even if the mission fails, following orders will not get you in trouble with your superiors. This is why he can not survive as a politician.

Can't wait for #17...

Larry, if I did not tune in to your fans would uncritically accept Powell's advice, later finding it impractical to implement and, perhaps, blaming themselves for failure. If you want to help your followers on this blog, I suggest you select a better leadership instructor than Mr. Powell.

Larry James said...

Anon 12:13, thanks for expressing your opinion. Still, I've found and continue to find that what Powell says works. And contrary to your comment, he does target the individual, and he doesn't limit his advice to a military context alone. Again, I've noted over the past 30 years that what Powell observes and posits is effective.

Anonymous said...

So what advice from the 1980s have you learned from Mr. Powell and how have you applied it?

Anonymous said...

"I've noted over the past 30 years that what Powell observes and posits is effective."

OK. Go on. ...