Thursday, November 08, 2007

America's General on Leadership

Last night I had the opportunity to hear general Colin Powell speak in Calgary on leadership and taking charge. This was a great opportunity in the truest sense of the word, and it makes for a great story.

First, the lead-up. Part of leadership is having goals, and only deciding to surround yourself with people who also have goals and who are bettering themselves. By surrounding myself more frequently with a fellow swim-upstreamer by the name of Siobhan, I have learned a lot about leadership and personal accountability (which I believe is the first step towards becoming a leader). Due to the law of attraction and equal exchange-based relationships, Siobhan offered me an attempt to see Colin Powell even though I would never ask her directly for a one-sided favor.
Lesson: Give without expectation of reward and you will be rewarded in ways you can't even imagine!

Next, the presentation itself. I was excited to hear general Powell speak because he is different than I am: while I come from a fitness and customer service background, he has over 30 years of military leadership. I was expecting to hear different and unique ideas. The fact that I didn't was in no way disappointing - it was reassurance. His quote "leadership is leadership is leadership. If I were to lead a church, a political regime, or any big business, I would apply the same principals of leadership that I did with the joint chiefs because the principals work".

You see, general Powell is a man of action. He empowers people with a strong vision, and he trusts his advisors, but then he acts. He brought up the question on everyone's minds with respect to the war in Iraq. Rather than go off about Saddam Housein, he accepted personal accountability for the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He (and the US government) was wrong. The fact is though, he stood by his advisors, and acted consistent with his beliefs and the best information that he had available to him at the time. The point is, all leaders make mistakes (otherwise, how would we learn?). It is not about being right it is about taking educated risks and affecting positive change. Despite being wrong about weapons of mass destruction, one could argue that even by being wrong he did affect positive change.

He then closed by speaking of his challenges after retiring, and his quest for purpose (which led him to create "America's promise" which positively affects underprivileged youth in America and which has been copies in Ontario and Alberta)
Lesson: Vision without execution is hallucination. Leaders don't sit around and shoot down those who are wrong. They may be wrong themselves but they act in real time to find solutions.
Lesson: Leaders don't motivate: they inspire by having an infectious vision of where the organization is headed and they help everyone on the team know how they help move the vision forward.
Lesson: Leaders don't just lead with vision and purpose; they live with vision and purpose.

Tying the lead up and the presentation together, real leaders don't live and die by a rule book. Great presenters don't spit our bullet points to impact people, they tell stories. To be a leader you must be real, you must take chances, and you must learn from every situation.

My lesson was that when you live by the principals of leadership (which are very consistant across any business or organization) your life opens up to new possibilities and you are rewarded by new opportunities and experiences. Leadership is not easy but it is damn well worth it. and the biggest lesson of all..

... you don't have to be Colin Powell to live like a leader and move yourselves and others forward.

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