The Leadership Wisdom of Colin Powell

While on my recent vacation, I raced through Colin Powell’s new book, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership.  It now stands as one of the most practical books on leadership I have ever read, right up there with Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden. If you have not read it, you need to.

Much of the first half of Powell’s latest work centers on his legendary “13 Rules.” These nuggets of wisdom have been floating around for twenty years or so, and should be on every leader’s desk.  Here they are:

Rule #1: It ain’t as bad as you think.  It will look better in the morning.

A good night’s sleep gives everything a fresh look.

Rule #2: Get mad, then get over it.

This rule grants us permission to get mad.  It also reminds us that mature leaders must move on.

Rule #3: Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, you ego goes with it.

Even leaders sometimes have their positions shot down.  Remember that this is not a reflection on you as a person.  Move on.

Rule #4: It can be done!

It is amazing what a leader can accomplish with this attitude!

Rule #5: Be careful what you choose. You may get it.

Think your decisions through to the end.  Make sure you can live with the result.

Rule #6: Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

Leaders must make tough decisions that don’t please everyone.  Accept that, or choose another profession.

Rule #7: You can’t make someone else’s choices.  You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.

While listening to advice is good practice, the decision is ultimately yours.  Own it.

Rule #8: Check small things.

Little acorns grow into large oak trees.  There is no such thing as a small problem.

Rule #9: Share credit.

When things go right, your team did it.  When they go wrong, you did it.  Period.

Rule #10: Remain calm.  Be kind.

Your followers are looking to you for direction.  If you remain calm in a tough situation, you will inspire the same reaction in your followers.  And remember, you can correct kindly.

Rule #11: Have a vision.  Be demanding.

Don’t let anyone set a standard of excellence higher than yours.

Rule #12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.

These two things create doubt.  Confidence makes for great leadership.

Rule #13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

If you are not optimistic, who will be?

What other rules would you add to this list?

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The Most Important Item on My Task List

Recently, I posted about how I handle tasks.  While I prioritize tasks carefully, there are many things that can and should be handled by others.  Determining which actions should be delegated may be the most important decision I make when looking at my to-dos.

When using an A, B, C, D method of sorting tasks, I have found that the D category – “Delegation” — is one of the most important, if not the most important item on my task list.  Getting things to people who can handle them is a crucial way for me to spend time on actions that simply can’t be delegated.

When initially creating my list of tasks for a given week, I place the letter D to the left of items that should be delegated.  This serves to remind me to send information regarding the item to the appropriate person.  Here is an example of what this looks like:

A Call Mrs. Jones Re: Sam’s grade

A See Bob about next year’s budget

B Review recently-received resumes

C Follow up with Jim

D Set up meeting with Joe, Frank, and John Re: Fundraiser (Barbara)

When looking at my task list for a given day, the D designation will remind me to delegate this task.  In this case, I would simply send an email to my administrative assistant asking her to set up a meeting with Joe, Frank, and John.  Placing Barbara’s name in parenthesis lets me know that I am delegating this task to her.

Once this is done, I change the item to look like this:

@ Set up meeting with Joe, Frank, and John Re: Fundraiser (Barbara)

The @ symbol lets me know that this item is in progress.  The name in parenthesis indicates that I am awaiting a response from this person.  If the day ends and I haven’t heard back from Barbara, I will simply move the item to the next day for follow up.

There are many ways to handle tasks and delegated items.  This one works pretty well for me, so you might want to give it a try.

What method do you use to delegate items and track them?

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The Beauty of Evernote

The dullest pencil is sharper than the sharpest mind.  I have heard my pastor say these words many times.  In fact, he practices what he preaches.  I have seen him take reams of notes while listening to people speak.  Wouldn’t it be great to have one place to store all of these notes? Evernote may just be the solution!

Evernote is an incredible application that is available for just about every computer and hand held PDA or smartphone out there.  It provides you with one place to store notes, clips from the web, photos, recordings, and tons of other stuff.  The fact that it syncs with multiple devices on the cloud makes it a must for me.

I use Evernote, a free app,  on my Macbook, iPhone, and iPad.  Just yesterday, I took notes at a conference on my iPad while simultaneously recording the conference session.  Now, when I look over my notes, I can actually hear the speaker at the same time!

I still have a lot to learn, but here is how I am currently using Evernote.

Notebooks and Tags for Organization

I create notebooks and tag my notes, thus organizing them into categories.  Some categories I use in my line of work include “Administration,” “Student Issues,” “Meeting Notes,” etc.  Within the tags, individual notes are automatically organized by date, making them easy to find.  Think of it as a simple filing system.  Finding notes is easier than ever!

Blog Post Ideas

I am currently keeping a running list of blog post ideas, by category, in Evernote.  I can jot down an idea anywhere.  All I need is my iPhone, iPad, or Macbook, and you can bet that one of these is with me at all times.

Classroom Visits

I use a Google form on my iPad to record data from my classroom visits as a principal.  However, I use Evernote to record just who I need to see in a day.  I check them off as I go, then refer to the document as a reminder of who still needs to be seen.  Again, the list is with me where ever I am.


There’s really no telling what else I will discover in the coming weeks.  I have only been using this application for about a month, and I still have a lot to learn.  However, I can tell that Evernote is something I will grow to depend upon more and more in the future.

I invite you to check out Evernote’s website.  You might just find that you can’t live without this app either!

What other note-taking/productivity apps do you use?

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Effective Listening

Colin Powell once said, “Leadership is solving problems.” One might add that listening is a major first step in the process.  If you are not a good listener, people will not bring you their problems.  If people don’t bring you their problems, you have a problem as a leader.  They either think you can’t help them or won’t help them.  Either is a leadership breakdown.

I discovered early on that my effectiveness as a listener has a direct impact on my effectiveness as a leader.  If my team members see me as approachable, they will more likely come to me for help.  If I don’t react emotionally to a difficult situation, then they will feel more comfortable sharing their emotions with me.

I have learned a few simple rules of good listening that I use on a daily basis.  Perhaps they can help you as well.

Allow the Person to Talk

No matter how tempting it may be to interrupt someone when they are presenting you with a problem, don’t.  It is best to allow the person to let the steam out.  Granted, this may take a while.  But interrupting will never help your cause.

Take Notes

Taking notes while someone is speaking is a good way to remain engaged in the conversation.  Otherwise, it is very tempting to work on formulating solutions while the problem itself is being explained to you.  Note-taking also shows that you are interested in what the person has to say.

Keep Your Cool

Emotion tends to exaggerate things.  People tend to embellish details when they are upset.  Regardless of what someone says, continue with your note-taking and remain calm.  You will have your turn to respond soon enough.

Demonstrate Understanding

Once the person speaking to you finishes, say something like, “Now let me make sure I understand you.”  Then repeat some of the main points back from your notes.  This way, you can be sure you really do understand.  You also instill a tremendous amount of confidence that a voice has indeed been heard.

Help Find a Solution

Finally, attempt to build rapport with your guest and work with that person toward a solution.  Many times, someone simply needs to be heard.  At other times, the fact that you truly listened paves the way for a workable solution to come through.

Cultivating good listening skills is one of the most important things you can do as a leader.  Take time to hone these skills, and watch your effectiveness soar.

Can you think of other effective listening skills?

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Introduce Yourself to FlyLady

For many of us, the most chaotic part of our life is our home life.  We may have tasks completely under control at work, only to have things at home in a tail spin.  To-do items don’t get done during the week, and we spend all of Saturday and Sunday frantically catching up.  My suggestion: Introduce yourself to FlyLady!

I somehow stumbled upon FlyLady and her website about a year or so ago.  It has revolutionized my home life.

Simply speaking, FlyLady comes up with a plan for keeping your house in order so you don’t have to.  She has broken down the areas of your home into “zones,” and concentrates on one zone per week for cleaning and organizing.  She also includes a list of things that should be done every day, and sends you reminder emails at the appropriate time.

The FlyLady principle is this: It is easier to maintain a clean home than it is to get one clean in a weekend.  She also believes that procrastination holds people back, and explains how to defeat this “monster.”  Her tips are tried and true.

I highly recommend that you give FlyLady a try.  You’ll be glad you did!

Do you know of any other web sites that focus on home productivity?

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The Value of iTunes U

Remember when a trip to the school library for research meant hours in the reference section?  Preparing reports or learning about a subject was time consuming, and most of the time was spent gathering research.  The Internet has made getting this type of information easier than ever, and iTunes U has opened the college world to anyone with a connection to the World Wide Web.

Once again, Apple is leading the way when it comes to integrating technology and education.  Their revolutionary iTunes U is worth a look, especially if you are a student or an education professional.  You can even find out how to host your own iTunes U site when you access their webpage.  Just look for the link at the bottom of the page.

iTunes U contains thousands of free lectures from some of the most prominent colleges and universities in the world.  You can also access language lessons and audio books.

iTunes U promises to revolutionize education.  Take some time to check it out!

How do you think iTunes U could benefit you?

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Effectively Using a Task List

“I’m busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger!”  I’ve heard that expression many times, and I’ve felt that way more times than I care to remember!  What about you?  Do you feel overwhelmed by everything on your plate?  A more important questions would be, Do you have a system in place to organize and prioritize your tasks?

Allow me to introduce a very simple system of keeping things from falling through the cracks.  Enter the Task List.

We all know how important it is to write our “to-do” items down.  However, we usually miss some very simple points that make the exercise less than optimal.  Here are some suggestions on how to get it right.

Keep Your Task List in One Place

Sticky notes are great.  I use them every day.  But they are not designed to hold your task list.  Many times we write down that which we need to do on any old slip of paper we can find.  Instead, find one place to keep everything, and work from that list.

If you prefer organizing with paper, your list could simply be kept on a memo pad.  However, today’s digital tools are worth checking out.  Between Outlook, Blackberrys, and iPhone/iPad/Mac apps, there are many electronic methods available for keeping up with all of those tasks.  Best of all, everything syncs, so you have your list with you at all times.

Prioritize Your Items

If we are not careful, we will fall victim of the tyranny of the urgent.  It is important that we carefully prioritize our tasks and work in order of importance each day.  Here is the system that I use:

Each task is assigned a letter: A, B, C, or D.  Each letter means the following:

A Tasks: Tasks that must be completed today, and can only be completed by me. These are tackled first thing – usually early in the morning.

B Tasks – Important tasks, but not rising to “A” level.  These will likely become A items if not handled in a day or two.  However, they can wait until the A items are done.  If needed, these items may be moved to a subsequent day.

C Tasks – These are items that would be great to complete, but the world will keep on spinning if they don’t get done immediately.  Many times, I end up discarding these tasks after they have hung around too long.  It is amazing what you can eliminate over time!

D Tasks – These are tasks that should be delegated to someone else.  When I do this, I make a note on my calendar to check back in with whomever received this item.  It is still usually my responsibility to make sure there was completion.

This post basically scratches the surface of effective organization of our tasks.  However, I hope it provides a good starting point for you.

Do you know of any other good task list systems?

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