Friday, April 15, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 1





General (Ret) Colin Powell is one of my personal heroes. A man who literally earned everything he has, knows how to make the hard decisions, and remains honorable and honest about those decisions. He is a rare breed that we do not commonly find in the world today (or ever). I came across these slides and wanted to share them with my readers (however many or few their might be), as well as provide any comments I may have from my own experience. Since I don’t see a copyright on them, I hope that I can share them without causing trouble.I will post one slide each Friday until they are all posted. Then I will post a link to the entire set on the last Friday. If you try real hard, you can probably find the slides yourself and jump ahead... but where's the fun in that?!

Lesson 1: Being Responsible Sometimes Means Pissing People Off
I have two sons, so sometimes I read this one as “You need to be their DAD, not their friend.” From a leadership perspective the same is true. You need to be their Leader, not their friend. It’s amazing to me how many people avoid “unpleasant” responsibilities because they don’t want to offend somebody, or are afraid of how the other person will react. In some cases it is simply making a request (my wife often tells me that the worst a person can tell you in this case is “No,” which doesn’t leave you any worse off than if you hadn’t asked in the first place). However, there are many times as a leader that you may need to do something more than say no. 

As a Leader, your decisions will impact people, and sometimes for the good of the unit, company, even sometimes the person, you have to do things that will piss them off. If you are uncomfortable doing that, good. Nobody should like to piss people off. If you are incapable of doing it, then get out of the leadership role. There are plenty of well paying jobs that do not require you to make these types of decisions. If you can make the decisions, stop worrying about the feelings of others and make the decision.

Now, don't take this to mean that you should discount other's feelings. If you discount them totally, you will end up with a large group of people waiting for (and sometimes helping) you to fail. But, if you make a decision, and explain why the decision was made, at least people will know the reasoning, and most people will accept it. The ones who don't are situations you need to address as a leader in the first place (which can lead some people into another moment of avoidance). 

As a final note, I want to point out the last sentence in the slide. In my short career, I see this constantly. Everybody has their "go to" person. Somebody who is the problem solver, the (as my wife calls it) "Staples Easy Button." They are the creative people who take an assignment, run with it, and accomplish things. These people deserve to be recognized and given opportunities to advance. However, what typically happens is that these people become "mission critical" and stay in the position that makes their manager (notice I didn't call these people LEADERS) look good. The people that are less able, less "mission critical" get the career advancement opportunities because they are "available" for the opportunity. I had a boss in the Army who did that to at least 4 people (that I am aware of, yet another future blog entry). Because of that behavior, because the best and brightest are kept overwhelmed and in a box, they will be the first to leave. If you find yourself in a position with a "mission critical" person, you should do everything you can to train somebody else to take the strain, and reward that mission critical person for his/her impact. If you don't they will move on from a manager who can't to a leader who can.

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