Saturday, February 11, 2017


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it Worked For Me by Colin Powell ; Published by  Harper Collins ; Pages 283 ; Price US $ 27 /99.

Colin Powell  is the former American  Secretary of State and a Four Star General. His book “It Worked for Me “ is a gold mine culled out of his remarkable experience and  the lessons he  learned.

 Powell gives  details his early life living with his Jamaican-born parents in the South Bronx of New York, working summers and Christmases at a furniture store , his experiences during two tours of duty in Vietnam, his philosophy on separating home and work, and his regrets and triumphs as a military and political figure over a span of 45 years. His life has truly been an impressive  journey and he puts forth many life lessons and advice for personal success and career satisfaction. Some of these are of universal value.

 The quintessence of the book are  Powell's "Thirteen Rules"— which became  the basis for his universally popular  lectures the world over. His short but sweet rules are illustrated by exquisite  personal stories that form the foundation for  his principles for effective leadership--: conviction, hard work, and, above all, respect for others.  Powell declares "It's about how we touch and are touched by the people we meet. It's all about the people."

 Powell is a born story teller and keeps us glued to his  parables loaded with advice on succeeding in the workplace and beyond. "Trust your people," he advises his subordinates in the State Department . "Do your best—someone is watching," he advises those just starting out, recalling his own teenage summer job cleaning floors in a factory making soda.

He  combines the insights he has gained serving in the top ranks of the military and in four presidential administrations with the lessons he's learned from his immigrant-family upbringing in the Bronx, his training in the ROTC, and his growth as an Army officer. The result is a powerful portrait of a leader who is at once a lofty thinker, wholly bereft of pride and highly appreciative of the role of those he worked with.

 Powell distilled ideas and anecdotes are an entertaining read and quite  charming.A few illustrations. A woman “in a local mall” who approached him in the parking lot, said, “I recognize you. You’re? …” After giving her some time to recall  his name  he thought better to erase  her misery with, “Ma’am, I’m Colin Powell,” to which she said, “No, that’s not it” and drove off.

When a London newspaper suggested that Princess Diana and Powell shared a genealogy that could be traced back to the Earl of Coote in the 1500s,  he “pocketed the news immediately” for future use. He subsequently had occasion to claim, at a charity gathering where Henry Kissinger was also appearing, “a relationship” with the princess. Whereupon Diana began her remarks, “Dr. Kissinger, ladies and gentlemen and Cousin Colin, good evening.”

 A persistent theme is how “Kindness Works” , in which he endorses a clergyman’s advice, “Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know.” A second theme concerns how important it is for leaders to listen to the ranks. He notes without elaboration how, on three occasions during his time at the State Department, he had to act on information he had received through informal channels to remove an ambassador quietly “before formal channels woke up to the problem.”A third theme is the importance of family or “tribe”: “Children need to be taught early in life what is expected of them and how they must never shame their family. They must be taught to mind their adults. If a kid isn’t spoken to properly, read to, taught numbers, colours, time, how to behave, how to tie his shoelaces, play nice, share, respect others, and know the difference between right and wrong, he will be miles behind by the time he reaches the second grade.”

Powell  explains how he came to give the infamous presentation to the United Nations justifying the invasion of Iraq on the basis of what proved to be faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. He still broods about those  who accuse him of “knowing the information was false. I didn’t. And yes, a blot, a failure, will always be attached to me and my UN presentation.”

He also notes that, four months after the fall of Baghdad, “even as their sources collapsed and no WMDs had been found, the CIA continued to formally report that based on what they knew and believed at the time they were made, they stood by their original judgments.”

 In “Tell Me Early” Powell emphasizes the importance of keeping your supervisors informed about any challenges or issues with which you’re faced. Powell recalls the 2003 revelation that American soldiers and interrogators in charge of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad had abused, tortured and humiliated these prisoners. Later that year, pictures taken by the soldiers themselves showing the level of abuse surfaced and were shown to ground supervisors, but this information was never conveyed to senior leadership. The state department, the chair of the joint chiefs of staff and President Bush all looked foolish in the eyes of the world.

 Powell  stresses the importance of creating a work environment in which healthy competition is encouraged so each individual can be the best at whatever they do.

 He reminds us that, “A life is about its events; it’s about challenges met and overcome—or not; it’s about successes and failures. But more than all these put together, it’s about how we touch and are touched by the people we meet. “

This is an extremely absorbing memoir by one who held the highest military posts in USA and learnt lessons the hard way.

05 / 02 / 2017

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