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Five Elements of Leadership from Colin Powell

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While attending the CCA Global conference in DC about a week ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Colin Powell speak. While we may not be 100% politically aligned, I do think he is an admirable leader who has faithfully served our country and truly has an amazing amount of leadership and life experience wisdom to offer.

He started the speech by saying, “One day you are at the top, #1! Kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers all want to see you, you’re flying around on your own jet and then…you ain’t!” I liked that he started out addressing that people can reach amazing heights in their lives and then in an instant things can change. This is especially poignant now when so many people find themselves being knocked off their high perches of success in their jobs and businesses. (His whole speech was peppered with a lot of humor and was quite entertaining.)

Then he went on to tell us all the 5 Elements of Leadership and following is what I managed to write down:

Inspire: Your role as a leader is to inspire, and your challenge is to get the most out of the talent in your team. Leadership says you are a person who can get 100% out of the people under your command and the key to this is to give them a purpose. Let them feel that what they are doing is beyond their individual roles and how it fits into the larger picture. He talked about how everyone at the State Department had an important role right down to the cleaning people who came in at night. The way he put it their mission was hyper-critical. The sheen and gleaming image of the State Department projected to the dignitaries that came to visit was not put there by him – it was put there by the largely unseen folks who came in every night to dust the woodwork and polish the floors. Theirs was a sacred mission, and he wanted them to understand the importance of what they did and take pride in what the jobs they performed.

My comment: so for those of us in marketing, our roles are not just about building brands or driving leads – marketers drive the economy. Marketing helps companies grow, thrive and hire people! We also help people who need a product or solution find it! At its heart, marketing is more than advertising – it’s a significant engine of the economy that finds new ways to communicate, encourages desired behavior and helps companies become successful. Did I get it right Colin?

Invest in the Troops
: A leader takes care of his troops and makes sure he knows what they need to get the job done. He spoke about three major areas of investment:

  1. Hardware – having the right equipment
  2. Software – having the right technology
  3. Brainware – having the right training

Recognize Success: Be able to spot the leaders in your midst and reward with large and small gestures so they know you know the good job they are doing. Tactics he listed included promotions, bonuses and most important praise (public and private).

Discipline
: Accountability is critical and people knowing what they are responsible for is key. The troops must know that they will be rewarded for success and sanctioned for failure.

Under-performance by one member of a team drags down the success of the whole team.

My comment: we all have experienced this right? Everyone works hard to hit a deadline or make something great and one person fails in their part and the whole team (for that matter the whole company) is robbed of their success and resulting pride, glory and client gratitude.

Trust: If people trust you they will follow you into battle. In life and the long term they will follow you even out of curiosity. They will think, “I am going to stick with this guy to see where he leads us.” But they need to know that you are not reckless and won’t lead them to a bad place.

My comment: this is of course true of your team and clients. If your team thinks you are going to drive your department or company into the ground they are not likely to follow you in the long term – they need to know that the person leading the way will lead everyone to a fulfilling and secure place for all. For clients this is doubly true as, unlike employees, they are paying you and in a very real way their careers and success are in your hands. They need to know that you will run your business and their account in a wise and prudent way. That the risks you put forward, and even push the envelope on, have a balanced risk/benefit factor. In a very real sense leadership trust is the element in a team dynamic that binds everyone’s success together. You need to trust that your leaders a) know what they are doing b) have the mission’s success at heart and c) that success in the mission equals success for all the team members.

So needless to say I was quite inspired by the speech and can only do my best to apply these principles to my life and company. The thing I loved best about what Colin said was the sheer pragmatism of his leadership philosophy. These were not lofty B-school management or psychological principals. This was advice that anyone could and should follow. These were principles that could be applied to a million army battle plan or a five-person team.

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