It Worked for Me Book Summary - It Worked for Me Book explained in key points
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It Worked for Me summary

Colin Powell with Tony Koltz

In Life and Leadership

4.7 (131 ratings)
18 mins
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    It Worked for Me
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    Colin Powell’s 13 rules

    After Colin Powell took over as the head of the US Army's Forces Command in 1989, the magazine Parade penned a cover story on him. This was where his 13 Rules of Leadership were born. These principles, which embodied Powell’s philosophy on leadership and management, went on to become widely celebrated and referenced in both the military and across different industries.

    Let’s take a brief look at each one:

    Rule #1: Remember to be optimistic, even during challenging times. Things may or may not work out in your favor, but it’s essential to keep a winning attitude. By projecting positivity, you can inspire your followers to push through difficulties. 

    Rule #2: It’s only natural to get mad – but make sure not to stay mad. Learn to move past your anger. Don’t wait until you start losing control of yourself. 

    Rule #3: Separate your ego from your position. This is especially crucial when you realize you’re in the wrong. If your ego isn’t tied to your position, your self-esteem won’t be affected by mistakes. 

    Rule #4: Adopt a can-do attitude. Until you have enough evidence that says you can’t, always believe that you can. But that doesn’t mean you should jump in without doing your research. Keep the challenges and opposing viewpoints in mind at all times. 

    Rule #5: Be mindful of your decisions, because you’ll have to face the consequences. When making a choice, carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks.

    Rule #6: Challenge the adverse facts when making decisions. Instead of being hindered by these setbacks, look for ways to overcome them. Draw on your instincts and experience to find solutions.

    Rule #7: Your decision is your responsibility, so don’t be swayed by other people’s opinions and desires. You can be open to their feedback and advice, but always remember that the final decision rests with you.

    Rule #8: Take note of the little things, even those at the lowest levels of your organization. Although they’re small, they often make the biggest difference. You, as a leader, should personally check on them or have members of your team follow up. 

    Rule #9: Don’t hog all the credit for yourself – share it with your followers. The best way to do this is through thoughtful gestures. Give your teammates a pat on the back, or tell them that you recognize their hard work. 

    Rule #10: Be kind and calm in the middle of chaos. This prevents your followers from panicking, which helps you get the job done.

    Rule #11: Determine a purpose for your organization. For your followers to function effectively, they need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing – and internalize it. Set this purpose, create the standards to achieve it, and then guide your followers to meet these standards. 

    Rule #12: Don’t let negative voices hold you back. In life, there will always be doubters and moments of fear. Acknowledge them, and learn to move forward in spite of them. 

    Rule #13: Perpetual optimism can multiply your forces. Believe that you’ll succeed, and your followers will believe it, too. But optimism alone isn’t enough – you also need to invest in training and preparation to ensure that your followers are equipped to succeed.

    These 13 rules can serve as your framework for becoming an effective leader – but there’s a lot more at play, which we’ll explore in the next sections. 

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    What is It Worked for Me about?

    It Worked for Me (2012) imparts Colin Powell’s practical wisdom on becoming an effective leader. It’s largely based on his time in the military and public service, and the insights he gained from his experiences in these positions. 

    Who should read It Worked for Me?

    • Experienced leaders looking to improve their leadership techniques
    • Military personnel who’d like to learn from a four-star general
    • Anyone who aspires to be a leader

    About the Author

    Colin Powell was a four-star general of the US Army and the first African American secretary of state. In 2003, he published the New York Times best seller My American Journey with coauthor Joseph E. Persico. 

    Tony Koltz is a writer who has coauthored several other military-focused books, including The Battle for Peace, Shadow Warriors, and Battle Ready. He also wrote two children’s books. 

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