Book Review – It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)

It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)
A Review by Helen McIver

Since retiring, Colin Powell has made another career as a professional speaker.  In his most recent book, It worked for Me,  Powell breaks the principles of life and leadership into seven parts, most of which were taken from his leadership presentations over the years. He collects stories (that happened to him or his friends) and uses them to illustrate his principles and ideas, which many people would benefit from reading and learning!

The first chapter concerns his 13 rules, which were previously published in Parade magazine over 20 years ago.  They were actually an “ad-on” column, that came from snippets of paper that he had shoved under the glass of his desktop.  I can remember reading that article and wrote most of them out.  Among those thirteen are:

  • Get mad, then get over it.
  • Share credit.
  • It ain’t as bad as you think (though I now prefer to think of his line “Fast Eddie, let’s play some pool.” )
  • Have a vision.
  • Be Demanding.
  • Remain Calm, Be Kind.

The remaining chapters focus on knowing who you are, taking care of others, the importance of mentoring, and how to be a great manager/leader.  The last chapter is saved for reflections.

It is worth remembering that Powell was the first black army officer to have a four-star troop command.  He served in the Army from age 17 to 56.  In those years, he served under four presidential administrations and has received numerous awards. His Jamaican immigrant parents instilled the value of hard work, and he took advice from Lincoln: “I can replace a brigadier general in five minutes, but it is not easy to replace 100 horses.”

Throughout his career, Powell had some exceptional mentors: Capt. Tom Miller, Maj.  Gen. Charles Gettys, Lt.  Gen. Hark Emerson, Capt. William Lovisell, and Col. Frank Henry. His writing feels more like a chat between friends than name-dropping. I am glad he was a restless soul and went walkabout often (getting to know people, staff, intel on the ground, not necessarily what was on paper.).

I hope more people read this book when they look to vote in the coming election for the Leader of the USA.  I find it hard to believe how many of the book reviews are already political and even racist.  Although the content is not entirely new, Powell’s book is a thoughtful, well-written and an interesting portrayal of an honest man in difficult times. It includes interesting anecdotes, easy humor, and engaging prose coupled with the resilience he has displayed throughout his life.

I have always had a great deal of respect for Colin Powell and valued the face that he provided to American foreign policy, as well as the common sense that he presented throughout his career. I trusted him, even on the WMD question, and often felt that if the intel was that bad, we needed to have much better security forces and intel operations. His job was to present the information that the CIA and President certified to the UN to determine a world response.

Powell is a Republican who endorsed Obama in 2008, but only after careful consideration.  He has noted that many of the changes Obama wanted to make have been stopped by Congress. He is also not endorsing anyone at present, still assessing both candidates.

This book will make an excellent graduation present and a wonderful fathers day gift. Don’t hesitate to buy it. His autobiography An American Journey is also worth reading, as is a biography by Karen de Young  entitled Soldier: Life of Colin Powell.

Great quotes to consider:

“A life is about its events – it is about challenges met and overcome. It’s all about people.”

“I try to be optimistic, but I try not to be stupid.”

“I set high not not impossible standards. Mine are achievable with maximum effort.”

“Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you ever know.”

“The US is the necessary nation. Despite our own problems…the world continues to look at us to solve or help with problems and crises….”

“We have to give every kid in America the access to public education that I received. We need to place public education at the top of our priorities and at the center of our national life.”

“If you take the pay, earn it. Don’t disappoint yourself.”

“Do your best- we’ll accept your best, but nothing less.” (Powell’s parents to him when he was not particularly good in sports or school).