Lessons in Leadership – General Colin Powell – Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier

I maintain a steadfast belief in a world of abundance, including a world of abundant opportunity, for all.   While it may not seem like it these past few months, there is overwhelming evidence of this truth.

But the times we are living in recent months are stressful, leading some to despair.  The global pandemic seems unending, and reasonable voices have been raised about social issues we must finally confront. Despair or Optimism, which path do we take?

Don’t take my word for the optimistic path.  In the words of General Colin Powell, a leader of leaders who happens to be black:

“Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier”

‘The ripple effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is awesome.  So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism.  Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues.  I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a “what, me worry?” smile.  I am talking about a gung-ho attitude that says, “we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best.” Spare me the grim litany of the “realist,” give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.’

Entrepreneurs get knocked on their backsides often, so without optimism entrepreneurial endeavor could not exist.  Entrepreneurs are told, “fail often and fast”. Failure is simply another word for learning, so fail often and success will be your ultimate reward. My personal story incudes 10 years of entrepreneurial survival and many learning failures, finally followed by 5 years of rapid growth, and a highly successful exit for ALL involved.  I failed often but never quit.  My perpetual optimism was often questioned, but never faltered.

At MAC6 our spaces are a commodity.  We do happen to have the most productive co-working workstations and spaces in all of Arizona, perhaps the world, but that will be a story for another day. Beyond spaces, our MAC6 offerings include a future filled with optimism.  The so called new-normal is currently unknowable, but entrepreneurs across the globe are rising to the occasion with clear signs and an optimistic belief that 2021 will see the biggest wave of entrepreneurial energy in the history of civilization.

How do we as leaders prepare? How do we lead and maintain optimism in times of both crisis and opportunity?  There are no silver bullet solutions, but one of my sources of optimism is through the study of great leaders past and present, and for me, Colin Luther Powell is one of those great leaders.

Through his sometimes-controversial career, Powell served America as a four-star general, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State.  Quite a career.  In 2016, while not a candidate, Powell received 3 electoral college votes for President of the United States. I wish he had run; I would have voted for him.

Years ago, as I was growing as a leader, I stumbled across a Lessons in Leadership PowerPoint authored by General Colin Powell, Chairman (Ret), Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Powell’s Lessons in Leadership resonated and in times of leadership stress I search for and find the old PowerPoint to review, and renew my optimism, about leadership and life.  I found it again this past week, so be optimistic and enjoy.

Lessons in Leadership

  1. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
  2. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.
  3. Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment.
  4. Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
  5. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
  6. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.
  7. Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either.  Theories of management don’t much matter.  Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved.  Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
  8. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
  9. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
  10. Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.