If you served in the U.S. military in the 1990s and early 2000s, I bet at some point someone introduced you to General Colin Powell’s 13 Rules of Effective Leadership.
Powell, who died Monday at the age of 84, had a fascinating and complicated legacy: first a black officer to be a four-star general in command of the troops, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and finally secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s first term. term.
For many, of course, his greatest legacy was how he pushed inaccurate intelligence in support of the invasion of Iraq.
For others, however, he will likely be remembered as much for his 13 oft-repeated rules as for his accomplishments and controversies. Reading them upon hearing of his death, I realized that every rule works because it is about separating actions from emotions: a key aspect of emotional intelligence.
Here are the 13 Rules, which Powell first compiled for a magazine profile in 1989, then revisited several times in print form. If you find this convincing, I hope you will also download my free ebook on the subject: Improve emotional intelligence 2021.
Rule # 1: It’s not as bad as you might think. It will be better in the morning.
A wonderful rule to start with because it encourages you to take anxiety and fear out of your decision making. Even if a situation you are facing turns out to be really bad, it’s best not to let fear of the facts lead to inaction before you even start.
As Powell wrote in his 2012 book, It worked for me: “This rule reflects an attitude and not a prediction.”
Rule # 2: Get angry, then get over it.
Anger is part of the normal range of human emotions. Better to feel it, acknowledge it, and let it go before it negatively affects your decision-making.
Rule # 3: Don’t get so attached to an argument that if it fails, your ego goes with it.
This rule is important to keep in mind for yourself, but also to remind you that it works (or doesn’t) for others too. In short, emotionally intelligent people will strive to find ways for other people to save face during disputes, as this can make it much easier for them to get along with you if the need arises.
Rule # 4: It’s doable.
There is a trap people fall into: letting negative emotions lead them to a negative conclusion, and then crafting arguments to support that conclusion.
Instead, reverse these forces. As Powell wrote: “[A]Always start by believing that you can do it until the facts and analysis add up. Have a positive and enthusiastic approach. “
Rule # 5: Be careful what you choose. You can get it.
Here’s another military saying you’ve probably heard if you’ve served in the past 30 years: âSlow is smooth, and smooth is fast. “
In short, if you take the time to think methodically, you make fewer mistakes in the long run and you get closer to your ultimate goals.
“Nothing original in this one,” Powell later wrote. “Don’t rush into things.”
Rule # 6: Don’t let unfavorable facts stand in the way of a good decision.
This rule is to realize that almost all important decisions must be made without complete information; if you wait until there is complete information, you will probably wait until it is too late to decide.
Acknowledging your humanity, and that you will make some mistakes, can paradoxically make this uncertainty more tolerable, and allow you to trust your enlightened instincts.
Rule # 7: You can’t make someone else’s decisions. (And don’t let others do yours.)
I think it’s easy enough to imagine that this rule comes into play under negative circumstances, like when you’re forced to do something you don’t think is right. The hardest test – and when to remember it – is when arguably positive things are hanging in front of you, but they don’t align with your goals and values.
Powell says that after being Secretary of State he was inundated with lucrative offers for board and finance, but ultimately turned them down: âThey were trying hard to make a choice for me, but I stood for my own choice. “
Rule # 8: Check the little things.
Emotionally intelligent people adopt this practice for a very simple reason: to avoid letting their optimism, excitement, or mere occupation lead them to assume that things are going well.
Rule # 9: Share the credit.
There are two reasons to follow this rule: First, to manage your ego. But second, be aware that people are emotional beings, and it is natural – even if sometimes counterproductive – for them, like you, to be motivated by emotional needs as much as by any other category of. needs.
As Powell wrote, âPeople need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.
Rule # 10: Stay calm and be kind.
Anxiety breeds anxiety; calm breeds calm. It’s also a good time to highlight one of the key elements of emotional intelligence.
This is because while treating people well, developing empathy, and being kind to others are wonderful byproducts of emotional intelligence, overall utility is more geared towards one goal: being aware and harnessing emotions. in order to accomplish what needs to be done.
Rule # 11: Have a vision.
Why is this so important? For your own sanity and efficiency, of course, but also because people have a deep emotional need for a purpose. If you are a leader, part of your job is to articulate a vision that is worthy of their efforts.
Rule # 12: Don’t take advice from your fears or detractors.
Fear is natural and sometimes helpful, but the point here is to recognize the fear and then try to remove the emotion from the decision making. Same with people who say you can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish: if they have any valid points, consider them, but don’t let their volume influence you unduly.
Rule # 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Finally, it is the rule which, I think, is repeated most often in military circles. It is also the most mythical in terms of emotional intelligence. In short, it’s not just about believing that things can be done; it’s about proclaiming that optimism to the people you lead, both in your words and in your actions.
Your optimism can become contagious, leading others to believe that things can be done, or that the problem is not surmountable, or that fears do not need to be counseled.
Bonus rule: the rules conflict. This is a good thing.
Powell’s legacy was legitimate, but it was complicated by its presentation in 2003 to the United Nations in support of the invasion of Iraq.
In fact, re-reading this list, I think it seems that he followed rule 13 on perpetual optimism at the time, to the detriment of rules 5, 7 and 8, on the don’t let go method. forcing into decisions, and checking the little things.
Yet sometimes the most useful rules are the ones that conflict and force you to make tough decisions. All the more reason to work on improving your emotional intelligence and to think about the legacy you will leave.
For the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors, not to mention the millions more who read and hear these rules, this simple list will be a big part of Powell’s.
Don’t forget the free ebook: Improve emotional intelligence 2021.