The Powell Doctrine? Don’t Forget the Kindness Part

Leaders are readers. And they especially value a good autobiography:  It Worked for Me: in Life and Leadership by Colin Powell, a 4-star general and former Secretary of State published in 2012.

His distinguished military and public service career was blemished after he infamously convinced the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003 that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction when it was eventually proved that he didn’t. This book is the only place where he gives his side of the story and then explains how he simply had to learn lessons and move on. I can relate to that after I write each blog!

The book starts out with his “13 Rules” which were published by Parade magazine decades ago. The first one is: It Ain’t as Bad as You Think, It Will Look Better in the Morning.” Sorry, I don’t! You don’t want to see me before noon. But after that Powell will find me humming along with Annie that the sun’ll come out tomorrow. His other 12 rules are good too, and a few I’ll remember, but they’re not on a par with the Big 10.

I can really relate to his comments about loving to stroll down Park or Fifth Avenues in the Big Apple — destination Sabrett hot dog cart for what is “affectionately known to New Yorkers as ‘dirty water dogs’ because they sit in a pot of near-boiling water.” Now you know how I feel here in the bog in August! We may have no idea what’s in them even when advertised as all-beef, but that doesn’t stop us from relishing them.

The best chapter in the book is called “Kindness Works” and Powell writes about how a statement in a sermon stayed with him for decades: “Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know.” He has learned that “Kindness is not just about being nice; it’s about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect.” Once my best friend, with tears in her eyes, let me have it for being unkind. I didn’t see how I had been unkind to her and thought she had provoked what I did. But when she followed up that I didn’t respect her, that stood me up on all fours because it hit me straight in the heart!  Kindness begins with care and respect.

Kindness, the fifth of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit given by Paul in Gal. 5:22-23, serves as a fulcrum for the other eight having balance and power.  Powell often brings up the value of kindness throughout his pages.

You’ll love the story about the president of the New York Central Railroad responding to an irate passenger who’d taken a sleeper from New York City to Buffalo. So the passenger receives a profusely apologetic letter from the president, but as he’s reading it and starting to calm down, out falls a handwritten note from the president to his secretary: “Send this jerk the “bedbug letter!”

This executive probably thought he was applying the Powell Doctrine: apply decisive force. He forgot the kindness part.


FUN FACT: The Brits are famous for keeping a stiff upper lip. Mine is flexible. Glad we moose don’t have to bother with chapstick!


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