Colin Powell’s 13 Rules of Leadership

The Revered General Left Us Important Principles to Follow During a Crisis    

10/22/21 – – Colin Powell, who died this week at age 84, was one of the most respected military and civilian leaders of the last half century. In reading media coverage of his passing, I came across the “13 Rules” he outlined for leaders in his 2012 book, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” While he wasn’t specifically addressing corporate crisis management when he set down these principles, I believe they provide excellent leadership guidance for people and organizations facing reputational storms.

Consider posting these on the wall of your war room the next time a crisis flares:


1. It ain’t as bad as you think!  It will look better in the morning. Leaving the office at night with a winning attitude affects more than you alone; it conveys that attitude to your followers.

2.  Get mad then get over it. Instead of letting anger destroy you, use it to make constructive change.

3.  Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.  Keep your ego in check, and know that you can lead from wherever you are.

4.  It can be done. Leaders make things happen. If one approach doesn’t work, find another.

5.  Be careful what you choose. You may get it. Your team will have to live with your choices, so don’t rush.

6.  Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. Superb leadership is often a matter of superb instinct. When faced with a tough decision, use the time available to gather information that will inform your instinct.

7.  You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. While good leaders listen and consider all perspectives, they ultimately make their own decisions. Accept your good decisions. Learn from your mistakes.

8.  Check small things. Followers live in the world of small things. Find ways to get visibility into that world.

9.  Share credit. People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.

10.  Remain calm. Be kind. Few people make sound or sustainable decisions in an atmosphere of chaos. Establish a calm zone while maintaining a sense of urgency.

11.  Have a vision. Be demanding. Followers need to know where their leaders are taking them and for what purpose. To achieve the purpose, set demanding standards and make sure they are met.

12.  Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers. Successful organizations are not built by cowards or cynics.

13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. If you believe and have prepared your followers, your followers will believe.

Thank you for your service, General Powell, and for the example of character and leadership you set for us to follow.

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