It Worked for Me

In Life and Leadership
by General Colin L. Powell | Harper Perennial © 2014 · 304 pages

Colin Powell is a retired four-star general in the United States Army and has earned numerous military, civilian, and foreign honors. He served four presidential administrations in a variety of roles, most recently as Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005. In this great book, he shares the wisdom he gained that, as per the title, worked for him in life and leadership. It's fantastic. Big Ideas we explore include a super-quick look at his Thirteen Rules, the power of perpetual optimism (it's a force multiplier!), starting with "It can be done" (but making sure we're optimists and not stupid :), entering the Zone of Calm (essential for a leader), the fact that good leaders know that good plans are revised immediately, and how to deal with fear and failure.

All followers need to feel they belong to a team, a tribe, a band. Leaders are leaders because they pass on the generations of experience they have amassed. They give purpose to the team, give it structure, hold it to standards, nurse and nurture the team, slap it upside the head, as needed, and above all give the followers someone to look up to.
General Colin L. Powell

“I love stories. In the course of my career, I gathered a number of them that mean a lot to me. Most come from my military life. I was in the military from age seventeen, as an ROTC cadet, until I was a retired GI at age fifty-six. Others came from my service as Secretary of State or National Security Advisor. Yet others came to me as I just wandered through life. In this book I want to share with you a selection of these stories and experiences that have stayed with me over the years; each one of them taught me something important about life and leadership. I offer them to you for whatever use you may wish to make of them.

As you will see, there are no conclusions or recommendations, just my observations. The chapters are freestanding. You can read them straight through or jump in anywhere. Everyone has life lessons and stories. These are mine. All I can say is that they worked for me.”

~ Colin Powell from It Worked for Me

Colin Powell is a beautiful man.

That’s what I thought when I first looked at the cover. And, I felt that at an even deeper level after reading this brilliant book.

In fact, one afternoon as part of my shutdown complete ritual I cleared off my desk and put this book in the center as a symbol of my focus for my next morning’s AM1 Deep Work time block.

After placing it there, I was captivated by Powell’s presence and thought to myself as I anticipated my time reading the book, “Wow. I’m really blessed. I get to hang out with the coolest people on the planet.”

Then I thought of just how true that statement is. I get to hang out with some of the world’s leading thinkers (via their books and interviews) AND I get to hang out with YOU. What a joy.

I’m smiling as I type this thinking about the fact that I get paid to basically connect cool people to one another. Thank you for making that possible! I’m honored. Now… On to the show!

I got this book after finding a Colin Powell quote related to a Google search I did on “force multipliers.” It’s a fantastic look at his “Thirteen Rules” of leadership plus a ton of other wisdom.

It’s now one of my favorite leadership books and memoirs. I loved it and highly recommend it. (Get a copy of the book here.)

Of course, it’s packed with Big Ideas. And, of course, I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author


General Colin L. Powell

35-year veteran of the U.S. Army, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.