Like much of the world, I was deeply saddened by the recent death of former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was a man of immense character, whose legacy of public service leaves us all indebted. It was a testament to his unwavering courage and integrity that a bi-partisan wave of public sentiment accompanied the sad news of his passing.
As I reflect on General Powell’s life, I can’t help but recall my personal connection with him early on in my career. To me, he was more than a public figure. He was my boss and a mentor who taught me important lessons in leadership.
As a newly appointed chief audit executive (CAE) in the U.S. Forces Command, I still recall the news that General Powell had been tapped to lead one of the nation’s largest military units. I had only been in my role for a short time, and had only served as the CAE for one commander prior to his arrival. General Powell was already a household name in the United States having successfully served as President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. Suddenly learning that my next boss would be a public figure with a reputation larger than life was both exciting and intimidating. Little did I know at the time that serving under his leadership would prove transformational in my own evolution as a leader.
As everyone knows, General Powell was destined for even greater opportunities. President Bush soon nominated him as Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and he would go on to become the nation’s first African American Secretary of State. In recognition of his exemplary career in public service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice), the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal.
While I would end up serving under General Powell for less than a year, he taught me many important leadership lessons. Here are five lessons I learned from him that shaped my own leadership journey in the decades to follow.
My brief tenure serving General Colin Powell was richly rewarding. His gifted leadership style was a huge influence on me. I never forgot the lessons I learned, nor the fact that we must always remember the influence we have on others.