Colin Powell’s Lessons in Leadership

There is a long history of business looking to the military for inspiration [think Sun Tzu and the Art of War]. The link between strategy and tactics, determination and flexibility and the importance of communication can be, in the militaristic world, a matter of life and death. And with such high stakes, comes great insight, but also great responsibility. This primer on leadership by Colin Powell [courtesy of Tim Kwiatkowski] explains the importance of balance, analysis and the need for action. There are some great key lessons, like “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off” — which is followed by succinct, yet powerful reasoning: Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that the people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable, if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity; you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization. Nina nets it out: There is much that leaders can learn from the military. Colin Powell’s lessons have plenty of actionable intelligence for us all to consider. Find at least one point this week and implement it in your...

Maintaining The Momentum in Tough Times

In good times, it is rather easy to keep employees motivated to “ride the wave.”  This goes without saying.  However, business leaders are not hired to lead only during good times.  In fact, true leadership reveals itself in times of difficulty.  Martin Luther King Jr. put this perspective into great words when he stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” As the economy in the U.S. is slowing and companies must persist in their efforts to achieve solid performance, true leadership is being put to the test.  Generally speaking, during the past several years, businesses have ridden a wave of economic success with low unemployment, stellar stock market performance and overall global economic growth.  However, as the costs of the Middle East wars accumulate, the real estate and subprime crisis continue to maintain a stranglehold on the U.S. economy, and demand for commodities outpaces supplies, countries and businesses across the globe are experiencing significant pressures. It is at such a time that business leaders must rise to the challenge that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of and display their true measure.  As employees feel pressures due to corporate cutbacks and prospective customers postpone purchases, business leaders are faced with the tremendous challenge of maintaining high morale, not only for those that work for and around them, but within themselves just the same.  To be sure, this is by no means easy to accomplish.  In fact, many leaders must suspend personal concerns and find a way to put the...

Are We Making Leaders Myopic?

Bad sight Originally uploaded by rore Are we, as business leaders, being driven to make decisions we might not otherwise make? What I mean by this is, are businesses, especially those that participate in the capital markets, making decisions that address short-term financial performance at the expense of looking at the long-term best interests of the company? With the global economy working its way through the subprime crisis and near $130 per barrel oil prices, companies are struggling to manage the repercussions. Airline business models surely weren’t built with these high oil prices factored in. Banks didn’t foresee the credit/subprime crisis on the horizon. Auto makers didn’t anticipate interest in SUVs declining as quickly as $100+ fill ups have caused. Why aren’t these companies able to see these things happening with more notice? Well, Wall Street may just have something to do with it. Companies that trade on stock exchanges are watched very closely by industry analysts who then relay their insights to investors. As most investors seek the best possible return on their investments, companies often times make decisions that have the most positive, short-term impact on bottom line results. In this way, investors see returns and reward companies by continuing to invest even more money. However, this short-term financial focus often can come at the expense of companies making longer-term, more strategic, decisions that might not have as good a short-term financial effect. Unlike Warren Buffet, who has been quoted saying “our favorite holding period is forever,” most investors do not have a very long-term focus. To be sure, access to capital is of vital importance to...