In my early thirties I worked at a great company with incredible bosses who gave our entire staff a paid day off and an incredible opportunity: A chance to attend a leadership conference. This was an event for people who were leaders or leaders-in-the-making.

Now I am not one to get giddy when I see celebrities and such, but when I saw Colin Powell’s name on the line-up of speakers I got butterflies! I had been reading his publications, articles and watched interviews for years. His communication and leadership proficiency have immobilized many military troops and the masses alike.

You may think someone of his, experience, stature, strategic and leadership prowess would come onto stage like a bulldozer, a force to reckon with, but not exactly. In front of ten thousand people he limped across the stage, a gentle smile on his face and sat upon the stool placed up there for him. After greeting the audience and introducing himself, he explained that his foot fractured, because he wasn’t listening the leader in his life: His wife.

He was helping her in the garden and she told him that he should rest, but he wanted to help her and long story short, he tripped and fractured his foot. He spoke very candidly about the love of his life and importance of his family. This and his humble yet strong stature (even when he was sitting on the stool or limping around the stage), made the audience instantly connect with him and hang on every inspiring concept and story he shared about leadership.

who is colin powell?

Colin Powell was born in 1937 on the 5th day of April. He was a diplomat as well as a military leader who became a state secretary appointed by the United States. In fact, he was the first ever African American appointed to this prestigious government position. In addition to that, Powell was the first African American to serve in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After his retirement, he remained vocal on a number of political topics many of which criticized Bush’s government. In 2008, he announced his endorsement for Obama’s presidency which led him to the headlines once more.

Colin was committed to inspiring various people’s lives with different skills on leadership and life experiences. Together with his wife, they have produced a number of publications. The following are some of his famous “life rules” he communicates to prospective leaders.

colin powell: 12 key rules for prospective leaders

#1 it ain’t as bad as you think, it will look better in the morning

This has been the driving factor for this man for as long as he has lived. Well, maybe sometimes things may not be better in the morning but when you pronounce this rule, what’s evident is that you have a positive attitude. The best you could do is internalize the message and strive to make it a living mentality, no matter what you are going through. See, the sun comes up irrespective of the weight of the clouds.

#2 get mad, then get over it

Things may offend you here and there, take offense, it is totally human and natural. What you should strive to avoid is staying offended. Getting mad is useful because it comes in very handy for releasing the tension. However, staying mad is not helpful at all because it will distract your focus and cloud your judgment on a number of situations that are not even relevant to what made you mad. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

As a commander, Colin Powell would encourage his subordinates to argue with him. Just because he was the commander did not mean other people did not have any ideas or opinions. What he asserted however was that, if you came up with an argument, then you had to take it till the end with the amount of zeal you took it with from the beginning. You had to come strong and convincing enough like you believed you were right. This did not mean that you were intimidated by his arguments and thereafter his decisions when he doesn’t consider your argument.

#3 it can be done

A very great percentage of success is made not because there were possibilities from the word go but because amidst all the challenges, there was a positive attitude somewhere. It may not be done at the end, but what you believe becomes. You never know, you could be the first person to make it done. While you are here believing, check the balance of possibilities alongside impossibilities. Try not to end up stupid too.

#4 be careful what you choose, you may get it

Choices have consequences. You choose a good way, you will always rejoice but if you choose a bad one, be ready to face the music. You are able to retreat from making bad choices though but then again, it’s your choice.

#5 don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision

Once you are on track with your progress towards success, an adverse fact may come in and stop you. Do not be that kind of a person that accepts to be stopped without employing some deep thought, challenging the fact or looking for any possibilities around the fact.

For instance, you have been working on an important and life changing project and just when you are about to present it, something comes up. You do not have much time to change many things. What do you do? Do you let the project go or do you try? The best decision is for you to give it some thought and using your informed instincts, execute it and pray it works. Even if it failed, you will have tried.

#6 you can’t make someone else’s decisions, you shouldn’t let someone else make yours

Like they say, you are your best advisor. Go with what your instincts tell, they are always right. In the case of Powell, when he retired from the army, most people thought he was going to launch his political career and hopefully, become president. This is just what the other American citizens thought he would be but in essence, what did he want? Therefore, always take time, search your soul and ask yourself if you like the aftermath of that decision.

#7 check small things

Most people focus too much on the larger picture and forget how the small details count. See, success is a build-up of so many things, all the tiny details involved. Get to know what happens underneath where the small details rest.

#8 share credit

Human gesture counts more than anything else in the face of the earth. When you recognize someone for a good deed they have done, you have satiated their hunger much more than food and water could. Always feel the need to touch someone’s heart besides just raising their pay and awarding them with medals. On the flip side, a wrong is a wrong and has to be addressed if there are hopes for fixing it.

#9 remain calm, be kind

No matter the kind of situation you are going through, no matter the storms of life that are hitting you and no matter how many people are standing on the sidewalk telling you what to do, always find that energy to reassess a situation and find a solution in a calm manner.

#10 have a vision, be demanding

What is your purpose? Have you set achievable standards? Great – now stick to them.

#11 don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers

Do not let fear take control of your life. Be a leader and train to stay strong.

#12 perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

Have the eye or skill to look at the good even in the worst situations. Again, no matter how far you have to go or no matter how difficult a situation is, your solution lies one step out of your comfort zone with a positive attitude.

Hopefully, one or more of Colin’s key quotes or concepts resonate with or helps you in your path to leadership. Remember we learn how to communicate and work as leaders by learning from great leaders before us and combining that with who we are.

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