Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell

The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell, the Legendary Leader was written by Oren Harari in 2003 and published through McGraw-Hill.  Oren Harari claims that the 24 lessons contained in the book are “lessons in leadership” that “Powell has practiced throughout his career”.   According to Amazon, Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business at the University of San Francisco.  He has written two other books that include lessons based on studying CEO Jack Welch and football coach Vince Lombardi.

Oren Harari claims that the 24 leadership principles contained in the book are based upon studying Colin Powell and his philosophy and practices of leadership that include metal maps, decision making habits, and “other behaviors that characterize effective leadership”.   The book does not provide a time frame when Harari studied Colin Powell or whether or not Colin Powell would affirm the lessons presented. 

These principles are presented in short chapters that can be read in five or ten minutes.  The content of the chapters invite contemplation and thought.  Each chapter begins with a short context followed by an explanation of the principle.  The author follows the explanation with two or three suggestions in the form of a statement or question.  The chapters end with a quote from Colin Powell that illustrates the principle. The simplicity of the chapter is not representative of the depth of the principle being presented.  Consequently while reading the chapter is relatively short; contemplation of the principle requires more time.  

What is missing is an illustration or example of the practical application of the leadership lesson.  This can be considered both a strength and weakness.  The inclusion of an application may dampen ones contemplation of the principles.  On the other hand, the lack of an illustration may lead the reader to contemplate the application of the principle in more robust ways. 


For someone looking for a book to prompt reflection about his or her leadership style and beliefs, The Powell Principles will satisfy that need.  The book is appropriate for individuals who are already in leadership positions as they can draw on their experiences when considering the appropriateness or application of the leadership principles.  For individuals new to leadership the book can provide a framework from which to develop a personal philosophy about leadership. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be A Cheerleader

Do you remember all those times your parents coached you about saying "please" and "thank you"?  I remember many times when my parents not only coached me about saying thank you, but also reminded me to write thank you letters.  Little did I realize that such a simple lesson from childhood would be a vital leadership principle.

This leadership principle is related to the last principle of "being visible".  Opportunities to be out and about on campus do provide me with a perspective about what is going right on campus.  It also provides me an opportunity to thank people for the good work they are doing.  By learning about the things that are going well on campus I am able to not only say thank you, but also to share with the campus community about the things going right on campus.

One habit I have developed is sending out a communication each Monday morning during the traditional fall and spring semesters.  These communication occur less frequently in the summer and on vacation, but the habit of talking about the week ahead each Monday has become important to me. I use this weekly communication to highlight things on campus or in the state that people should be aware of as it may effect the college at some point in time.  I also use this communication to share the good news that I learn about during the previous week.

Sharing the good news also me to be a cheerleader for the college.  I do this when I'm out in the community working with stakeholders, businesses, alumni, and friends of the college.  When I'm in the community I'm sharing the message that we are good community partners and that people are getting a good return on their investment in higher education.

When I share the good news internally, it provides an opportunity for others at the college to recognize the good work of their fellow colleagues.  It also provides employees with information for their personal narrative about the college.  By reminding colleagues that there is good work happening on campus, I am creating an opportunity for employees to choose what they want to focus on.  In the absence of good news, the only news an employee has to focus on may be the negative news from colleagues.

Why do I think colleagues share the negative?  Have you heard of the old adage that people share a bad experience with many friends while they share a positive experience with virtually no one?  That adage holds true of employees as well.  Employees tend to talk about their negative experiences at work more frequently than the positive.  Sometimes, like the news media, only the negative is worth talking about.  I'm not saying that employees shouldn't talk about the negative.  What I am saying is that I believe a leader is able to share both the good news and the bad news.

Focusing upon only the  good news or only the bad news provides a less than realistic view of what is happening at the organization.  Consequently, I think it is important to highlight the good news whenever possible.  A balanced view will give employees the freedom to trust both the good and bad news that you must share as a leader.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Be Visible

The last post talked about "walking the talk" or being the role model.  This principle supports that principle.  You can only be a role model if you are visible.  Being visible also allows you to see and listen.  The more you take opportunities to check in with people in your organization the sooner they will realize that you are just checking in not checking on them.

I enjoy the opportunities I get to walk around.  I wish I could have more opportunities.  Checking in with people gives them an opportunity to share with me something that is important to them or something they are proud of.  When I enter their space, I'm a guest.  It seems to me that they gain confidence when I'm in their space.  This allows them to take the lead and talk about things they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about.

Being visible also allows employees to get to know you on an more informal basis.  Meeting times are generally focused and structured.  When you walk up to someone and ask a question the setting is generally more informal.  The more often one does this the sooner employees learn that you are approachable and that you are interested in them as people.

Being visible also provides me an opportunity to celebrate the things that are going right in the organization.  So often my day is focused upon problem solving and I have little opportunities to hear about all the good things that are happening in the organization.  By getting away from the office and meetings, I am able to hear from people who are focused on the key responsibilities of the organization.  Generally, things are going right (or I would have heard about it already).  Walking around helps me realize that there is far more going right in the organization than going wrong.

Being visible is mutually beneficial.