What does Colin PowelI Tell his New Aides?

rank - four star


Colin Powell is on a short list of my most respected leaders. With my background in the Army he is one of the general officers that provides the example of what I would call the ideal if there is any such thing. Although I’m sure (or at least hope) he has made mistakes like the rest of us, he comes as close to doing things right as I have ever studied.

After an outstanding military career his service to the country in government as secretary of state was also impressive. Not many make the transition he so successfully made, placing service of country before his own interests. Not sure his peers within the White House prioritized their service in the same manner.

Whether as a general or cabinet member he was supported by staff to carry out the grueling amount of complex work. In his book “It Worked for Me” he explains how he brings his staff on board so they can represent him and function as he would expect them to. In the chapter ‘What I Tell My New Aides” he expands on the following outline of subjects covered.


How To Survive As My Aide – Or What Not To Do

  • Don’t ever hesitate to ask me what to do if uncertain.
  • Don’t ever sign my name, or for me.
  • Never use money on my behalf.
  • Avoid “the General Wants” syndrome – unless I really do.
  • Provide feedback, but be tactful to those who ask – talks between you and me are private and confidential.
  • Alma and my family have nothing to do with the office. Never interrupt with calls from Alma unless there’s a crisis.
  • Never keep anybody waiting on the phone – call back.
  • I like meetings generally uninterrupted. I ask a lot of questions. I like questions and debates.
  • I’m a people / phone junkie. I like to remain enormously accessible.
  • I will develop ways of getting to know what’s happening.
  • Don’t accept speaking engagements without my knowledge.
  • Keep accurate calendars and records. And keep faithful track of calls and whom I have seen. I always return calls.
  • I tend to get moody or preoccupied. I will snap, but that clears the air.
  • Be punctual; don’t waste my time.
  • I prefer written information to oral. Writing encourages discipline.
  • I do lots of paperwork – and I like doing it.
  • Make sure correspondence is excellent. No split infinitives.
  • Never, never permit illegal or stupid actions.
  • No surprises. I don’t like to be blindsided. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. If there is a problem brewing, I want to know of it early – heads-up as soon as possible.
  • Speak precisely. I often fudge for a reason. Don’t over interpret what I say.

Colin Powell notes that these rules have been welcomed by new staff and instrumental in transitioning staff into a harmonious team in a  relatively short timeframe. I’m not sure if all of the list is transferable to your own situation, but I know that I will adopt most of them and add some specific to my own style. My only regret is that I didn’t learn this technique years ago.


From, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership, by Colin Powell with Tony Koltz

It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership
Colin Powell with Tony Koltz


“You can map out a fight plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes – which means training. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re getting found out now under the bright lights.”

– Joe Frazier



  1. Have you done your roadwork or have you cheated?

  2. What road work or training should you be putting in?

Over The Top, by Zig Ziglar (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), P. 234

Harvard Business Review – Management Tip of the Day, July 28, 2014

Give Everyone in the Meeting a Job to Do

Every meeting organizer wants people to attend, pay attention, and participate. Assigning attendees a specific role is a good way to accomplish all of this. Before your next meeting, consider appointing:


  • A facilitator to guide the group through the phases of discussion, problem-solving, and decision-making. She also makes sure one opinion doesn’t dominate — a good role for someone who wants more leadership experience.
  • A scribe to capture any key points, ideas, and decisions established in the meeting. This is a great assignment for someone who is shy but wants to participate.
  • A contributor to offer ideas and help keep the discussion on track. Tell the person you’re counting on him to ensure that all the key issues are addressed.
  • An expert to share knowledge on particular issues as requested. He or she can attend just part of the meeting.


Adapted from Running Meetings (20-Minute Manager Series).




One of my favorite songs was sung by a young group of girls at yesterday morning’s church service. I am not always the best at picking up the words so I had to research the lyrics.

Six Questions Every Leader Should Ask

3d man with red question marks over white background made in 3d software

As a leader the questions we ask are as important as the answers we give. Here are six questions every leader should ask:

  1. Which gauges should we be watching?
  2. Where are we manufacturing energy?
  3. Who needs to be sitting at the table?
  4. Who is not keeping up?
  5. Where do I make the greatest contribution to the organization?
  6. What should I stop doing?


– Andy Stanley, Leadercast 2014 Journal – Beyound You

What is your definition of Success?

To laugh often and loved much

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children

To earn appreciation of honest critics

endure the betrayal of false friends


To appreciate beauty

To find the best in others

To leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition

To know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived

This is to have succeeded

– Often attributed to Elisabeth – Anne Anderson Stanley

Start Something That Matters, by Blake Mycoskie