The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons From Battle-Proven Leader Colin Powell

by Oren Harari

Business professor Oren Harari (1949-2010) encapsulated Colin Powell’s (1937-2021) lessons of leadership in 24 three-page chapters. “The Powell Principles constitute a clear, strategic, philosophical, value-based, and ethical blueprint. The blueprint guides Powell, but the blueprint has enormous flexibility and opportunism built into it.” The 24 lessons are:

  1. Promote a clash of ideas
  2. Be prepared to piss people off
  3. Establish trust
  4. Walk the talk
  5. Pick the right people
  6. Listen
  7. Be vigilant in details
  8. Be a disorganizer
  9. Check your ego at the door
  10. Let change lead growth
  11. Seek consensus (but don’t be ruled by it)
  12. Fit no stereotypes
  13. Simplify
  14. Let situation dictate strategy
  15. Push the envelope
  16. Close with the enemy
  17. View People as partners
  18. Challenge the pros
  19. Don’t rely on charts and title
  20. Trust those in the trenches
  21. Make optimism a top priority
  22. Have fun in your command
  23. Strive for balance
  24. Prepare to be lonely

According to Powell, “the key attributes of a leader are competence, character, courage, loyalty, and confidence.  These qualities build trust and credibility, which are essential in order to lead. Additionally, “a leader who doesn’t have a sense of humor is unlikely to be effective over the long run.”

Powell emphasizes attention to detail. “The Big Picture is made up of hundreds or thousands of details… If you are not the master of the details, you can’t be the master of the Big Picture.”

Powell says “the stewardship of people is a strategic priority” and adds “influence accomplishes as much as, if not more than, authority.” He advises hiring and promoting people who demonstrate “intelligence and judgment, a capacity to anticipate, loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done… Powell’s favorite attributes are hard to infer from a resume.”

This book offers a concise summary of Powell’s leadership principles, but it does not include any anecdotes from his career to illustrate the points. The more recent book It Worked For Me by Colin Powell and Tony Koltz   includes stories from Powell’s experience in the military and the State Department.

Harari, Oren. The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell, Battle-proven Leader. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Buy from