Is it possible for a young boy growing up in a tough part of massive city to “make it” in the USA? Can his life end up far beyond what he ever imagined possible? Could the decisions that he makes in his journey be small steps toward an unbelievable career that will have international implications?
I laughed when Colin Powell described his boyhood in New York. Just his description of his old neighborhood and the context of the ludicrous inquiry about his dreams made for a moment that made everyone chuckle. He was not thinking about becoming the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead, he was just trying to figure how to get through High School.
When people asked when he graduated from West Point, he shrugs his shoulder and tells them about his academic background at a Community College. There was no journey through the best of military academies, just a youngster trying to graduate.
From that humble academic background, Powell learned quickly by watching others how to adopt leadership values. At the heart of his philosophy is that the job is not accomplished by the leaders but by those who are led. If a leader respects those that follow him, then a lot more gets done and lot more gets done better.
He tells of working late. It is so late that the cleaning crews has already started their work. General Powell does not ignore them, distance himself from them or active dismissive toward them. Instead, he asks them how they are doing. He even inquires about their family.
This leader knows that to give significance those around him will reap dividends. His office will sparkle. People who are given dignity by those who are over them, live up to great expectations.
He took time to encourage, appreciate and verbally affirm those around him, those under him and those whom he met for the first time. People sought to be added to his unit. A reputation of appreciation is self-propagating.
During his growing years and in his flourishing career, he knew and saw racism. It was something he chose to overcome with a life of productive achievement. He was careful with his words. Blame was not his game. Nor was hatred or revenge options for his life.
There is a dignity in this man’s life. It is worthy of respect. He has been a powerful influence in lives of many. That is what good leaders do.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography