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Colin Powel

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Colin Powell: A Leader of Leaders

Otis V. Rockmore


May 20, 2013
Frank Futyma

Colin Powell: A Leader of Leaders

In choosing an individual to report on, I wanted to find someone that I could identify with and relate to on some level. With this in mind and having served 20 years in the military and understanding its dynamics, the obvious choice was to choose a military leader. With so many great leaders to choose from, I wanted to choose an individual that demonstrated the ability to be a successful leader in the private or political arena as well. After researching various leaders that had accomplished such task, I chose Colin L. Powell. Colin L Powell was born April 5 1937 in Harlem, New York. He is a United States statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State (2001-2005), serving under President George W. Bush. He was the first African American appointed to that position. He was the first, and so far the only, African American to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) (“Colin Powell”, 2013).
According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2009), leadership has various definitions that differ in many ways. One states that leadership can be defined as “Directing and coordinating the work of group members” and the other states it as “The process by which an agent induces a subordinate to behave in a desired manner (Chapter 1). While these and many other definitions outlined in Chapter 1 could describe and define General. Powell as leader, the definition that best fits is the “The process of influencing an organized group toward accomplishing its goals” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2009, Chapter 1). This strong leadership was evident during his tenure as Secretary of State. Secretary Powell won praise for his efficient administration of the State Department and cordial relations with other governments. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Secretary Powell took a leading role in rallying America's allies for military action in Afghanistan (American Academy of Achievement, 2011). His ability to lead is without question! Without the ability to bring not only to bring diverse groups but nations as well the success achieved while obtaining the highest rank within the military and then again in the private sector as Secretary of State would not have been possible.
Although some say that leadership and management go hand in hand it is important to understand their differences. For example the manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it. While serving as while serving as JCS under President Clinton, General Powell publicly disagreed with President Clinton over the President's plan to permit gay men and women to serve in the military. Although he eventually accepted a compromise on the issue he showed his leadership ability by challenging the idea and ultimately the role of a manager by executing the president’s plan of “don’t ask don’t tell”.
Leadership Roles: Similarities and Differences The roles of JSC and Secretary of State are distinctly different but yet hold some similarities. The most glaring difference is that one is a military position and the other civilian. Both roles required leader and manager mentalities. As the leader of a very powerful department within the federal government and of the world’s great and most powerful military, he understood he still needed and would be required to fulfill the role of a manager when put in the position of executing the plans and visions of those above them. Which in this case of the Secretary of State would have been Congress and as the JCS the Secretary of Defense. Being able to adapt to both roles made him very successfully in each position.
Racism was a major obstacle during the time General Powell progressed through the ranks and into leadership roles within the military. He handled the humiliations as a black soldier traveling in the Deep South and the intimidating challenges as a battalion commander in Korea, where the army guarding the border with North Korea was inundated by drugs, drinking, a lack of discipline, and racial tension. Fortunately he was able to overcome these obstacles by proving to be a unwavering valuable member of the military who proved that he could do the job.
Some of the more commonly used measures include a superior’s effectiveness or promotion ratings, subordinates’ ratings of their job satisfaction and morale or of their leader’s effectiveness, and various work-unit performance indices (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2009, Chapter 4). Based on these measurements, Colin Powell was a very effective leader. This is evident by achievement of being selected to the highest ranking military position possible, proves he met his supervisors performance criteria. The fact he ran a very efficient office while Secretary of State proved his effectiveness as a leader. And lastly his result showed in both cases his unit and department continually performed at high levels and exceeding expectations.
Colin Powell began his leadership journey during a time when it difficult for an African American to get a fair opportunity in the military. He refused to let obstacles deter him from his goal of being the best soldier and leader he be. This will and determination proved to be valuable asset as became not a great military leader but a great statesman as well. “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible (Colin Powell, n.d., slide 20).” This way of thinking is truly why Colin Powell can be called a Leader of Leaders.
American Academy of Achievement. (2011). Colin Powell Biography. Retrieved from
Colin Powell. (2013). Retrieved from
Colin Powell. (n.d.). A Leadership Primer [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from
Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy. (2009). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience (6th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership? (2011, Spring). Wall Street Journal, (), .Retrieved from

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