In 2008 I had the honor to meet Colin Powell and introduce him as a keynote speaker. In preparation I read Oren Harari’s book, The Powell Principles. It is a no-nonsense guide to leadership. I am also a big fan of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, who has 11 NCAA championships to his credit. One of the first things I read about Wooden over 30 years ago was how he developed his well-known leadership pyramid. I always get inspired when I browse these books. Their advice is powerful but simple. Here are a few examples:

  • Strive for balance. Take leave when you’ve earned it. Don’t clock hours for hours’ sake; make sure you accomplish things (Powell).
  • When you are through learning, you are through (Wooden). Great leaders develop team skills and listen to others with different points of view.
  • Fit no stereotype! (Powell). Be ready to change on a dime. Don’t rely on packaged solutions. Expand your toolkit of management techniques.
  • People don’t care how much you know until they learn how much you care (Wooden). Investing the time to learn about the people you lead allows you to connect when tough times come.

It may seem trite to reference these apparently simple rules; but in the context of Powell’s 24 principles and Wooden’s 12 leadership blocks, they take on new meaning. It’s difficult to be a leader! It can be lonely, as Powell found after deciding to move on the first Gulf war. Leaders always accept responsibility and will adjust if things start to go wrong. When the team is behind you, they will respect your decisions and help to move forward.

Wooden says emotion is your enemy, and little things make big things happen. I’ve seen some great mid-level managers demonstrate excellent leadership skills — such as buffering emotional responses coming from the top of an organization. Front-line employees see it and appreciate their boss taking the brunt of the emotion and then strive to accomplish the goal with teamwork and loyalty within the ranks.

Now that I’ve given you a taste, perhaps you’ll want to read more from these great leaders. I promise you will become a better leader and friend.