It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

by Colin Powell


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New York Times Bestselling Author

Colin Powell, one of America’s most admired public figures, reveals the unique lessons that shaped his life and career

It Worked for Me is a collection of lessons and personal anecdotes that shaped four star-general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s legendary career in public service. At its heart are Powell’s “Thirteen Rules,”—notes he accumulated on his desk that served as the basis for the leadership presentations he delivered throughout the world.

Powell’s short-but-sweet rules such as “Get mad, then get over it” and “Share credit,” are illuminated by revealing personal stories that introduce and expand on his principles for effective leadership: conviction, hard work, and above all, respect for others. In work and life, Powell writes, “It is the human gesture that counts.”

A compelling storyteller, Powell shares parables both humorous and solemn that offer wise advice on succeeding in the workplace and beyond. “Trust your people,” he councils as he delegates presidential briefing responsibilities to two junior aides. “Do your best—someone is watching,” he advises those just starting out, recalling his own teenage summer job shipping cases of soda. Powell combines the insight he gained serving in the top ranks of the military and in four presidential administrations, as well as the lessons learned from his hardscrabble upbringing in the Bronx and his training in the ROTC. The result is a powerful portrait of a leader who was reflective, self-effacing, and grateful for the contributions of every employee, no matter how junior.

Powell’s writing—straightforward, accessible, and often very funny—will inspire, move, and surprise readers. Thoughtful and revealing, his book is a brilliant and original blueprint for leadership.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062135131
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 4,686
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Colin Powell was born in New York City in 1937. He was a retired four-star general in the United States Army and earned numerous military, civilian, and foreign honors. He served four presidential administrations in a variety of roles, most recently as Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Part I The Rules

1 My Thirteen Rules 3

Part II Know Yourself, Be Yourself

2 Always Do Your Best, Someone Is Watching 31

3 The Street Sweeper 37

4 Busy Bastards 39

5 Kindness Works 45

6 I'm All Caught Up 49

7 Where on the Battlefield? 53

8 Spheres and Pyramids 61

9 Potential, Not Just Performance 67

Part III Take Care of The Troops

10 Trust Your People 73

11 Mutual Respect 77

12 We're Mammals 83

13 Never Walk Past a Mistake 91

14 The Guys in the Field Are Right and the Staff Is Wrong 93

15 It Takes All Kinds 95

Part IV Fast Times in the Digital World

16 Brainware 105

17 Tell Me What You Know 113

18 Tell Me Early 121

19 Beware First Reports 125

20 Five Audiences 129

Part V Getting to 150 Percent

21 What I Tell My New Aides 137

22 One Team, One Fight 149

23 Compete to Win 153

24 Swagger Sticks 159

25 They'll Bitch About the Brand 161

26 After Thirty Days, You Own the Sheets 165

27 Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall 167

28 Squirrels 175

29 Meetings 181

30 The Indispensable Person 187

31 Time to Get off the Train 191

32 Be Gone 195

Part VI Reflections

33 The Powell Doctrine 201

34 The Pottery Barn Rule 209

35 February 5, 2003: The United Nations 217

36 Parsley Island 225

37 Pizza and Milk 231

38 Cousin Di 237

39 Speaking Is My Business 243

40 On the Road 253

41 Gifts 257

42 Best and Worst 263

43 Hot Dogs 267

44 The Gift of a Good Start 271

Afterword: It's All About People 277

Acknowledgments 281


I love stories. In the course of my career I gathered a number of them that mean a lot to me. Most come from my military life. I was in the military from age seventeen as an ROTC cadet until I was a retired GI at age fifty-six. Others came from my service as Secretary of State and as National Security Advisor. Yet others came to me as I wandered through life. In this book I want to share with you a selection of these stories as well as experiences that have stayed with me over the years. Each one of them taught me something important about life and leadership. Some of the stories deal with serious aspects of my life, including some of the controversial issues I was involved in during my tenure as Secretary of State. There are also humorous stories from my life as well. I offer them to you for whatever use you may wish to make of them.

The first part of It Worked for Me explains my Thirteen Rules, which have been bouncing around since they were first published in Magazine over twenty years ago. These are rules that I have gathered over the years and to which I've adhered in my career.

CLP's Thirteen Rules:

1) It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2) Get mad, then get over it.
3) Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4) It can be done!
5) Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6) Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7) You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
8) Check small things.
9) Share credit.
10) Remain calm. Be kind.
11) Have a vision. Be demanding.
12) Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13) Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

The rest of the book focuses on everything from the importance of really knowing who you are and how to always be yourself to why I put an emphasis on knowing and taking care of others, especially those who are your followers. I go into my experience in the exploding digital realm that has reshaped the world and our lives. I talk about how to be a great manager and a great leader. I give no conclusions or recommendations, just my observations. The chapters are free-standing. You can read them straight through or jump in anywhere. Everyone has life lessons and stories. These are mine. All I can say is that they worked for me.

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