It Worked for Me by Colin Powell

I stumbled upon this book while looking for a good book to read. Recently I have really come to enjoy reading autobiographies and biographies. I have always had a lot of respect for Colin Powell, so when I read about this book, I had to buy it!

“It Worked for Me” is a fantastic leadership book. It’s not just theory, it’s a book filled with life lessons on leadership that have been tested and tried for many years. I believe that anytime you’re able to see inside a leaders life, you will always learn more than if you are just reading about leadership principles in a book.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the principles that Colin developed and executed over his career. If you love leadership and love getting the opportunity to see the behind the scenes in high-level leaders lives, than this book is a must read.

I took away a lot from the book, but perhaps my biggest takeaway was the importance of having a good start and the responsibility to do something with it once you have one. Colin said,  “Being born into a good family might be the best thing that ever happened to me. But it was only a start.”

This really made me grateful for those who have allowed me to have a great start through their investment in my life. Now it’s up to me to do something with it! It also gave me a vision for the people I have the opportunity to invest in. Everybody I invest in, I am helping them get a great start. However, whether or not they do anything with it will be up to them.

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Some of my highlights:

  • “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.”

  • We are taught in the military to take full responsibility for “everything your unit does or fails to do, and what you do or fail to do.” Since ultimate responsibility is yours, make sure the choice is yours and you are not responding to the pressure and desire of others.
  • People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.
  • “Whenever you place the cause of one of your actions outside yourself, it’s an excuse and not a reason.” This rule works for everybody, but it works especially for leaders.
  • Perpetual optimism, believing in yourself, believing in your purpose, believing you will prevail, and demonstrating passion and confidence is a force multiplier. If you believe and have prepared your followers, the followers will believe.
  • Always Do Your Best, Someone Is Watching
  • If you take the pay, earn it. Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are. Don’t disappoint yourself.
  • On Fridays, I left the office with tons of work; I was far more efficient in the quiet privacy of my home. I expected my staff to do likewise. If you have a reason to go in, then go in, but never think that going in just for the sake of going in impresses me.
  • I learned early that a complete life includes more than work. We need family, rest, outside interests, and time to pursue them.
  • The leader must never forget that he may end up working for one of them.
  • I used direct reports from my staff to keep me informed about everybody under me.
  • Children need to be taught early in life what is expected of them and how they must never shame their family.
  • Without the example I saw in my home and in my extended family, I wouldn’t have succeeded in life.
  • Never Walk Past a Mistake
  • Leaders who do not have the guts to immediately correct minor errors or shortcomings cannot be counted on to have the guts to deal with the big things.
  • Fear and failure are always present. Accept them as part of life and learn how to manage these realities. Be scared, but keep going. Being scared is usually transient. It will pass. If you fail, fix the causes and keep going
  • I had a standing rule for my staffs: “Let me know about a problem as soon as you know about it.”
  • Leaders have an obligation to constantly examine their organization and prune those who are not performing.
  • Being born into a good family might be the best thing that ever happened to me. But it was only a start.
  • As successes come your way, remember that you didn’t do it alone. It is always we. The good followers know who the underperformers are; they are waiting for a leader to do something about them.


Colin Powell



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