I recently started reading Colin Powell’s new book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership. I have always been a fan of Powell as a general and as a government official, and I figured I should take full advantage of my free time now that university classes are on hiatus. Though It Worked for Me is new, its foundation isn’t; the book revolves around Powell’s Thirteen Rules for life, first published in Parade. I think that these thirteen little sayings have a lot to teach about leadership and attitude. I have included them here for your reference:
1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2. Get mad, then get over it.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4. It can be done.
5. Be careful what you choose: you may get it.
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
8. Check small things.
9. Share credit.
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
While reading Powell’s Thirteen Rules, I realized how often I violate them in my life. I can frequently be pessimistic, egotistical, careless, controlling, temperamental, indecisive, and power-hungry. All I have ever wanted to do was to be a leader, but now I understand that I have been going about becoming one in the completely wrong way. I think there is a lot to fix about the way I lead. I know I won’t be able to change my habits overnight, but working for Eli Africa is helping me figure out what makes a leader successful or unsuccessful.
These lessons felt particularly meaningful this afternoon, when I was at the head of a classroom for the first time. It was my fault that the experience was disappointing and frustrating. I really learned today that leading is harder than it looks. People cannot be strong-armed into compliance; they have to be willing of their own volition to let you be in charge. Earning respect—that is not something I am great at. I hope that this summer will help me improve in that sense. At the very least, I need to remember that I am only 19 and still have a lot to learn. The truth is that, more often than not, I don’t know best.
So this is what I want to say to all of my friends, family, and particularly any Eli Africa students reading this blog: there is always room for improvement. In my view, being a successful person means that you face the hard truths and create a better version of yourself. No one can do that for you but you. And, in the end, there is a beauty in knowing that you have that much control over your life. Most importantly, do not be discouraged by the setbacks you will inevitably face. Remember: It can be done.