Key Quotes from General Colin Powell on Leadership

Operation Desert Storm

Key Quotes from General Colin Powell on Leadership

Colin Powell led an interesting life, with a varied military career and time in American politics. You don’t spend that much time in the field and in offices without a fair amount of wit and brevity about you. Today’s list takes a look at 9 of my favorite quotes from the man himself.


Powell was born in 1937.
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“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”

I can’t speak personally about Colin Powell’s dreams and wishes throughout his life, but I can see the drive and work that went into getting where he was at any stage of his career.


Born to Jamaican immigrants, Powell grew up in the South Bronx in New York City.
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“Don’t let your ego get too close to your position so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn’t go with it.”

There are many things you can say about Colin Powell, but I wouldn’t say the man was particularly known for being full of himself.


Powell earned his commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1958.
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“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

You can plan for anything and everything, but when the rubber hits the road, the planning goes out the door.


During his service in Vietnam, Powell would be injured twice.
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“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Powell certainly suffered setbacks and failure throughout life, but was able to position himself to succeed despite it.


1989 would see Powell joining the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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“The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.”

Colin Powell saw the merits of the average person, and no doubt saw what they were capable of when push came to shove.


Operation Desert Storm saw the use of the Powell Doctrine, using overwhelming force to minimize casualties.
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“Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself.”

You don’t learn how to address a problem without at least trying and failing beforehand.


Powell is the first African-American Secretary of State.
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“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

I love this quote from Colin Powell because it speaks to the true nature of leadership. It isn’t about discipline or stern posturing, but rather solving problems and listening to the people in your care.


2005 saw Powell exit the political life, working in consultation and keynote speeches.
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“I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.”

You’re not always going to about life smoothly, but being able to have a positive attitude makes sure that things keep going as they should.


2021 saw Powell’s passing from multiple myeloma, he was 84 years old.
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“War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support.”

Colin Powell was a man involved in both the military and political machinations of the United States. Understanding the need for diplomacy before rifle fire is a key trait that more politicians should uphold.

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