Colin Powell’s 13 Rules of Leadership

Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.

Written by Morgan DeLisle


Colin Powell is a retired four-star general of the U.S. Army. Towards the end of his military career, he entered into national security and defense/foreign policy jobs. Powell served as Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, George H.W. Bush’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and George W. Bush’s Secretary of State.

With such an impressive resumé, there are certain things that Powell is without a doubt more than qualified for, such as writing a book on leadership. So he did! It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership is Powell’s book outlining the thirteen leadership rules that guided him throughout his career. Here’s the list:


  1. It ain’t as bad as you think
  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
  8. Check small things
  9. Share credit
  10. Remain calm; be kind
  11. Have a vision
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier


Applying these rules to ourselves would be beneficial, but there is also something to be gained in seeing these rules as the standard to which we hold our elected officials.

Leadership has been a vague term despite the vast amount of books, articles, and blog posts covering the subject. Nevertheless, we continue to demand people develop leadership skills and lead in ways that are effective and unique. Vague terms make poor scales against which to measure people and even worse guides to developing our own abilities. This is where Powell’s rules come in handy: they can serve as an indicator of what great leaders should look like, and how the leaders in our lives should act.

Let’s test this idea out on one leader the entire world has its eyes on: President-Elect Donald Trump:


Several of these are mindset-based, and I am not going to pretend to have crawled into Trump’s head and seen his positive or negative outlook on the world. That sounds like a terrible idea. However, as far as the rules on having a vision and backing it with confidence are concerned, I think Trump has that pretty much down pat. He knows what he wants to accomplish and – despite the mass amount of push back he has received from seemingly every corner – he has not backed down on the ideas, though he may soften the packaging a little to make them more acceptable. Or at least to be slightly less offensive.

The areas Trump may need to see improvement may be things that involve niceness and likability. Again, I have never worked closely with him, so Trump may do a great job of sharing credit and watching the small things, but from where I sit, he could do much better at keeping calm and being kind. Or he could just get rid of Twitter and his enemies might have a lot less to hold against him. Either way, kindness and humility in a leader are never bad things, or things that we are difficult to obtain if one makes the effort.


In closing, this blogger suggests we suspend judgment and useless speculation until we see for ourselves just how President Trump acts, or we will work ourselves into a hypothetical frenzy and serious unrest. Remember, stay calm and be kind whether or not things turn out the way you’d hoped, because leadership is something all of us ought to demand of ourselves.


One comment

  1. Theresa Spear · ·

    Great leadership may look different, but it always makes the difference.

    As always, Morgan, I enjoyed this read!


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