On leadership, heros and success

A Leadership Primer by Colin Powell

Philip Dixon and Rita Ashley

Phil is currently VP at a major US online retail company and has just accepted a new position with a company who reached out to him to help them advance their technology to the next level and improve traffic to their already popular site. Once he resigned, his direct reports, team members and peers, independently and together took the opportunity to tell him what a great leader he is and that working for or with him was what made their jobs compelling. Some went so far as to say they felt safe knowing Phil was ever vigilant for opportunities and hazards.

Not afraid to confront the hard issues: Often going against the grain, and believing he alienated his peers, Phil was always the one-eyed in the valley of the blind, taking the unpopular stance when necessary and always cognizant of the pros/cons of any issue. His peers told him they had come to depend on him for rocking the boat just enough to keep them going forward. During his tenure with the company they reached statistical heights other companies could only hope to achieve.

He was told he would be very difficult to replace. How does an executive create such an impact on a company? Under his leadership the company became one of the most highly trafficked sites in their niche with customer loyalty similarly high.

Openness to new ideas enhances leadership: My own experience with Phil is that he is open, even eager, to learn new things, always acknowledges other’s accomplishments, no matter how small and, even when he pushes back, does so with respect and appreciation for the other point of view. He is kind yet strong and makes decisions based on information, including the illusive, yet important, intangibles.

Does this make him a good leader? It is certainly a good start. I scratched the surface and learned one of Phil’s heros is Colin Powell. I believe whom we admire tells a lot about who we are; who we strive to be. Here is Phil’s review of the presentation, ” A Leadership Primer ” by Colin Powell.

Colin Powell has long been one of the public figures I most respect.  From his time as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to his service both before and after, Powell wields an incisive intellect and has powerful and practical wisdom to share. The summary “Lessons” from his presentation:

  • Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
  • The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.  They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.  Either case is a failure of leadership.
  • Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites.  Experts often possess more data than judgment.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
  • Never neglect details.  When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be double vigilant.
  • You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
  • Keep looking below surface appearances.  Don’t shrink from doing so because you might not like what you find.
  • Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved.  Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
  • Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.
  • Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
  • Fit no stereotypes.  Don’t chase the latest management fads.  The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
  • “Powell’s Rules for Picking People: “  Look for intelligence and judgment and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners.  Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
  • Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt – to offer a solution everybody can understand.
  • [paraphrased] Use the formula (Probability of success) = 40 to 70 – where the numbers are the percentage of information acquired.  Once the information is in the 40-70 range, go with your gut.
  • The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
  • Have fun in your command.  Don’t always run at a breakneck pace.
  • Command is lonely

Powell finishes with:  “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

He’s leaving: I wish Phil continued success and great joy in his new job and suspect he will only grow stronger as a leader. It is my hope he mentors others to be strong leaders and even keeps notes on what and how he accomplishes more than what is apparently possible.

But wait, there’s more. As an homage to Philip on his last days with his employer, his people, following a tradition he started, created an, “I am” for Phil. Here’s what the team had to say about Phil:


I am a confidante, a leader and a friend to my team • I believe in greatness • I believe in you. And I am your advocate • I am successful because I grow successful people • I know what I want and I make it happen  • I love to rock the boat • You’re right, I am up to something • I articulate the vision in a way that motivates and inspires; and you cannot wait to get started • I have the ability to “see” around corners • I connect the dots • I can take it • I am unstoppable • I already did it. Deal with it  •  I am going to reschedule • I fly to work and drive a gold clunker to the office • I am in your Top 5  •  I am always late, but very worth the wait • I am a mobile dance party – put the tunes on and watch my ass shake • I am not in control of my leg; it has a mind of its own • My “dad jeans” are hot •  I am and will always be a cool kid • I am playing with my wedding ring right now • I leave crumbs everywhere • I am always smiling, and yes, I know I have a great smile • I am infectious • I am full of life • I am a daddy, a husband, a pilot, a sailor, a concert violinist, a martial artist, an intellect, an adventurer and an innovator • I am legendary • I DO!

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