Monday, January 14, 2013

Colin Powell's perpetual optimism as a force multiplier

In 2006, I had the opportunity to hear Colin Powell speak at the 31st NPRA International Petrochemical Conference. He shared some lessons that he learned about leadership and diplomacy during his time in service of our nation. I don't recall the specific things he said, but I remember walking away feeling inspired and entertained.

Back before we had blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, Powell's Leadership Primer containing 18 lessons was circulated virally by email. I remember receiving it by email many times in the late 1990's. Lesson 12 from his primer is "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." In this lesson, Powell describes the importance of enthusiasm and optimism, and how this can be an emotional contagion:

Optimism is an important theme of Colin Powell's latest book, It Worked For Me. In the first chapter, he wrote about his famous Thirteen Rules of Leadership, which are different from the 18 lessons from his primer. Perpetual optimism is one of the thirteen. A few others are also tied to optimism:

  • It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. 
  • It can be done!  
  • Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Powell describes perpetual optimism as a belief in yourself, in your purpose, and in success. Demonstrating perpetual optimism with passion and confidence is a force multiplier, because it will drive your followers to share your optimistic beliefs. He describes optimism as an attitude, rather than a prediction or a reality. In the face of difficulty, Powell says to start out believing in success until the facts and analysis pile up against it.

He describes fear as a normal human emotion that can paralyze us and stop us in our tracks if we don't recognize that it needs to be controlled and overcome. Fear can prevent us from clear thinking and rational analysis. He says, "We prepare for it and control it; we never let it control us. If it does, we cannot lead."

Watch this interview with Colin Powell on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he talks about his book and preaches optimism as the key ingredient in life and leadership.