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101 Colin Powell Quotes On Leadership & Success

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101 Colin Powell Quotes On Leadership & Success

If you’re looking for Colin Powell quotes then these are the very best from the iconic military leader.

The American statesman is a retired four-star general in the United States Army. During his military career Powell also served as as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993).

Powell was the first, and so far the only, Jamaican American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, the African American to serve in that position.

These Colin Powell quotes provide leadership lessons relevant for every profession and will only help you grow as a leader and become successful in life.

101 Colin Powell Quotes

1. “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

2. “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” – Colin Powell

3. “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.” – Colin Powell

4. “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.” – Colin Powell

5. “You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.” – Colin Powell

6. “Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself.” – Colin Powell

7. “Get mad, then get over it.” – Colin Powell

8. “The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny.” – Colin Powell

9. “It ain’t where you start in life, it’s where you end up, and what you did along the way.” – Colin Powell

10. “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.” – Colin Powell

11. “Always show more kindness than seems necessary because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know.” – Colin Powell

12. “Trust is the glue that holds people together and is the lubricant that keeps an organization moving forward.” – Colin Powell

13. “Always focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror.” – Colin Powell

14. “The best method of overcoming obstacles is the team method.” – Colin Powell

15. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” – Colin Powell

16. “Faults are yours to fix, not to curse.” – Colin Powell

17. “Have a vision. Be demanding.” – Colin Powell

18. “In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity we know our friends.” – Colin Powell

19. “None of us can change our yesterdays but all of us can change our tomorrows.” – Colin Powell

20. “Treat people kindly. When you are kind to somebody and I don’t mean necessarily buddy-buddy, just show kindness and consideration. Show that people are worthy and you respect them and you are glad they’re with you.” – Colin Powell

21. “The freedom to be your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best.” – Colin Powell

22. “All work is honorable. Always do your best because someone is watching.” – Colin Powell

23. “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.” – Colin Powell

24. “Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.” – Colin Powell

25. “There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” – Colin Powell

26. “Never neglect small details, even to the point of being a pest. Moments of stress, confusion, and fatigue are exactly when mistakes happen. And when everyone else’s mind is dulled or distracted, the leaders must be doubly vigilant. Always check ‘small things.'” – Colin Powell

27. “Never believe the first thing you hear.” – Colin Powell

28. “Pissing people off doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things, but doing the right things will almost inevitably piss people off.” – Colin Powell

29. “Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how. Not everyone has a right to speak into your life. You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.” – Colin Powell

30. “The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.” – Colin Powell

31. “Whenever you start – give it your best. The opportunities are there to be anything you want to be. But wanting to be someone isn’t enough; dreaming about it isn’t enough; thinking about it isn’t enough. You’ve got to study for it, work for it, fight for it with all your heart and soul, because nobody is going to hand it to you.” – Colin Powell

32. “Being kind doesn’t mean being soft or a wuss. Kindness is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of confidence. If you have developed a reputation for kindness and consideration, then even the most unpleasant decisions will go down easier because everyone will understand why you are doing what you are doing. They will realize that your decision must be necessary, and is not arbitrary or without empathy. As the old saying puts it, ‘To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.'” – Colin Powell

33. “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” – Colin Powell

34. “Always be looking for that which you do well and that which you love doing, and when you find those two things together — man, you got it.” – Colin Powell

35. “Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.” – Colin Powell

36. “If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool.” – Colin Powell

37. “You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.” – Colin Powell

38. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms.” – Colin Powell

39. “Maybe we don’t put our young people in situations often enough where they’re allowed to fail. When you fail you gain experience, and with enough experience, you don’t fail as often.” – Colin Powell

40. “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.” – Colin Powell

41. “One of the greatest talents of all is the talent to recognize and to develop talent in others.” – Colin Powell

42. “In the army we are drilled into execution and then supervision, to make sure everything goes the way you planned it. But there is another thing that we do in the military, that I think perhaps isn’t done enough in corporate life: As soon as you have made that decision, you start on the contingency planning. Because there is, as we like to say, a thinking, breathing enemy out there, who is not going to let you do just what you want.” – Colin Powell

43. “Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.” – Colin Powell

44. “Don’t just count your days, make your days count.” – Colin Powell

45. “Fear is a normal human emotion. It is not in itself a killer. We can learn to be aware when fear grips us, and can train to operate through and in spite of our fear. If, on the other hand, we don’t understand that fear is normal and has to be controlled and overcome, it will paralyze us and stop us in our tracks. We will no longer think clearly or analyze rationally. We prepare for it and control it; we never let it control us. It if does, we cannot lead.” – Colin Powell

46. “Luck tends to come to people who are prepared.” – Colin Powell

47. “No matter how significant or life-changing your greatest hit or miss might be, neither even begins to define who you are. Each of us is a product of all our experiences and all our interactions with other people. To cite calculus, we are the area under the curve.” – Colin Powell

48. “Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard. Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember that even the pros may have leveled out in terms of their learning and skills. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent and lazy.” – Colin Powell

49. “The greatest gifts my parents gave to me…were their unconditional love and a set of values.” – Colin Powell

50. “Let it [racism] be a problem to someone else… Let it drag them down. Don’t use it as an excuse for your own shortcomings.” – Colin Powell

51. “Another rule I have is: Don’t let your ego get tied up in a policy dispute. Otherwise, if things don’t go your way, you can end up breaking a relationship with somebody with whom you can’t afford to break.” – Colin Powell

52. “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.” – Colin Powell

53. “Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.” – Colin Powell

54. “Failure is a part of life and you have to learn to deal with it. Failure is something that is part of life’s cycle and it’s from failure that you gain life experience.” – Colin Powell

55. “Time is passing, … We have to look at the reality of the situation and … redouble our efforts and get on with it.” – Colin Powell

56. “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. I am talking about a gung-ho attitude that says ‘we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best. ‘Spare me the grim litany of the ‘realist;’ give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.” – Colin Powell

57. “The media only report stupid or careless answers, not stupid or unfair questions.” – Colin Powell

58. “Only when you have got a clear statement of what you want to achieve, do you ask yourself how you are going to achieve it. In the military we are taught never to go for a single answer, no matter how obvious that might be.” – Colin Powell

59. “There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.” – Colin Powell

Colin Powell Leadership Quotes

60. “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.” – Colin Powell

61. “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – Colin Powell

62. “If a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity then there will be no passion and intensity within the organization and they’ll start to fall down and get depressed.” – Colin Powell

63. “I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.” – Colin Powell

64. “The best leaders are those who break that mission down into the organization’s constituent parts, so that everybody understands their role and how it all builds into the whole.” – Colin Powell

65. “Leadership is all about people … and getting the most out of people.” – Colin Powell

66. “I think leadership is both a trained thing and a natural gift.” – Colin Powell

67. “Actually, there is no more important task for a leader than to pick people. To make sure you have the very best people working for you.” – Colin Powell

68. “Great leaders are those who are able to look reality in the face, however painful it may be, and deal with it.” – Colin Powell

69. “Every human endeavor has leaders and followers, and your job as a leader is to inspire.” – Colin Powell

70. “You can’t get it all done yourself. The best leaders are not afraid of picking people who are better than they are and who may one day replace them.” – Colin Powell

71. “The great leaders that I have worked with are people who have a good sense of empathy with other people. They can walk a factory floor, or walk through a battalion and smell if there’s something wrong.” – Colin Powell

72. “I have found that leadership is leadership is leadership. It applies whether you are in government or in corporate life or in non-profit life.” – Colin Powell

73. “It is the job of leaders to eliminate uncertainty.” – Colin Powell

74. “We are not trapped in what the science of management says we can do. We are capable of doing what the art of leadership says is possible.” – Colin Powell

75. “Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them.” – Colin Powell

76. “The essence of leadership is building bonds of trust in your organization.” – Colin Powell

77. “Leaders have followers. The primary role of a leader is to convey to those followers a sense of purpose, vision, and mission.” – Colin Powell

78. “Have a vision; but it’s not enough to have a vision, you have to communicate that vision to others. You have to communicate it to people who work with you and for you. You have to communicate it to the world leaders with whom you come in touch.” – Colin Powell

79. “Trust is the essence of Leadership.” – Colin Powell

80. “Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details, every day.” – Colin Powell

81. “You know you’re a good leader when people follow you out of curiosity.” – Colin Powell

82. “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” – Colin Powell

83. “As a leader you set the tone for your entire team. Communicate your vision.” – Colin Powell

84. “Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.” – Colin Powell

85. “Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire every follower at every level to internalize their purpose, and to understand that their purpose goes far beyond the mere details of their job. When everyone is united in purpose, a positive purpose that serves not only the organization but also, hopefully, the world beyond it, you have a winning team.” – Colin Powell

86. “Good leaders must know how to reward those who succeed and know when to retrain, move, or fire ineffective staff.” – Colin Powell

87. “Effective leaders are made, not born. They learn from trial and error, and from experience.” – Colin Powell

88. “Respect for leaders by followers can’t be mandated; it must be earned. It has to be given to leaders by their followers.” – Colin Powell

89. “First you train the followers to accomplish the mission. Second, you resource them: Make sure that they have the tools to do the job. Third, you reward them: You give them medals or bonuses.” – Colin Powell

90. “Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.” – Colin Powell

91. “Every organization needs to be introspective, transparent, and honest with itself. This only works if everyone is unified on the goals and purposes of the organization and there is trust within the team. High-performing, successful organizations build cultures of introspection and trust and never lose sight of their purpose.” – Colin Powell

92. “The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.” – Colin Powell

93. “You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness, and a kind word. Everyone of our employees is an essential employee. Every one of them wants to be viewed that way. And if you treat them that way, they will view you that way. They will not let you down or let you fail. They will accomplish whatever you have put in front of them.” – Colin Powell

94. “Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.” – Colin Powell

95. “I have never seen a good organization where the standards weren’t high.” – Colin Powell

96. “Every organization should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has no clothes.” – Colin Powell

97. “There is no such thing as an unimportant person in an organization.” – Colin Powell

98. “With vision only, you get no follow-through. With enforcers only, the vision is realized but leaves a lot of wreckage.” – Colin Powell

99. “This is something else that is drilled into us in the military: Make sure you know who your replacement is, in case you become a casualty. So you have to have depth within an organization.” – Colin Powell

100. “You need to learn what people have done, but you need to learn where they have failed… Usually when they fail it is in the execution.” – Colin Powell

101. “People get work done, not buildings, not staffs in a generic sense, and not plans, but people.” – Colin Powell

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