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If you like Colin Powell's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
George Bush,
Benjamin Carson,
Tom Clancy,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Daniel Inouye,
William McRaven,
Rosa Parks,
David Petraeus,
Bill Russell,
Norman Schwarzkopf,
Alan Simpson,
Desmond Tutu
and Oprah Winfrey

Colin Powell can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Colin Powell also appears in the videos:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership,
What is a Leader?

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Colin Powell in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Justice & the Citizen
Black History Month

Related Links:
State Dept.
America's Promise
Powell School
Stanford Business

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Colin Powell
Colin Powell
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Colin Powell Interview (page: 6 / 9)

Former Secretary of State, United States of America

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  Colin Powell

Let me ask you about some of the other qualities that you think go into your job. What role does your gut play, your instinct, when you're making monumental decisions?

Colin Powell: You're really going for the secrets now.

Colin Powell: One of my little rules is, you get all the facts you can. You get all of the analysis you can. You grind it up in your mental computer and then, when you have all the facts available to you, go with your instinct. I go with my instinct a great deal, but it is not just snap-go. You have to learn the technique of informing your instinct, of educating that little place down in your stomach where instinct resides, so that it is not blind instinct, but informed instinct. Built into each of us is a little calculator that can make judgments that will never appear on a piece of paper. And sometimes you just know something's right -- you can't prove it to anybody -- or you know something's wrong. Little ethical circuit breakers you carry around inside of you, or little right and wrong circuit breakers you carry around inside of you. So, I go with my instinct a great deal.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What about being a team player? That seems very important.

Colin Powell: In my view it is extremely important. A team means up, down and sideways. I'm a great believer in loyalty to the person I work for. If you take the King's shilling, you do the King's work. And so, loyalty upward is a very important trait for me. Loyalty downward, to those who are doing it for you. And loyalty to the people you're working side by side with.

What about luck, has that played any part in your career?

Colin Powell: Sure. But I don't view luck as being a completely random event.

Colin Powell: Luck tends to come to people who are prepared. You're lucky you got the job? No, you're not. You're lucky that somebody knew how good you were. You were lucky that somebody became aware of the talent you offered to the position, that's the luck. The luck isn't you got it because you were unprepared, or unqualified. Luck has played an important role in my life over the years, but luck won't do it by itself.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Did you find there were skills you'd learned on the battlefield that helped you out in Washington?

Colin Powell: Well, Washington is a battlefield in and all its own. As you become more senior in the military, you really do have to have an understanding - to be successful - of how the political process works and how to deal with public relations, and how to convey the story of the armed forces to the American people. The political process and the media are two things you really do have to master. Not because you want to be a spinmeister, but because the political process is how the country runs, that's how democracies run. So you have to know how to go up and testify on Capitol Hill and satisfy members of the House and Senate as to how you're planning to spend the money which the Constitution gives them the authority to appropriate every year. You've got to do it every year, whether you like it or not. You have to expect to be punched around a little bit, challenged. You have to expect people will want to spend less money than you want. And you have to expect to hear parochial constituent interest from individual congressman, because that's why they were elected, to represent parochial constituent interests. And that's all part of the process. You have to understand that the media is out to find anything about you that you don't want them to know. That's their role in the democracy. They are the fourth estate. And your responsibility is to tell the American people as much as you can about what you're doing with their sons and daughters and their money. But you're also supposed to protect their sons and daughters, and so there may be things you don't want to tell the media. And so there's this great contest that takes place, but it's a healthy contest. Any senior general or admiral who doesn't understand that you have to do this isn't going to be very successful. You can't just rant and rave at the political process, or be mad because The Washington Post or The New York Times said something unpleasant about you that day. You've just got to keep doing your job to the best of your ability. To some extent, it's war in a different way. Politics is war, without bullets and shells -- usually.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

You've talked about some of the ills in society that trouble you, particularly homelessness, poverty, lack of education, racism. What specific things can young people do to try and eradicate some of those horrors?

Colin Powell Interview Photo
Colin Powell: First and foremost for young people is to commit themselves to something, and to realize there is an alternative to going down the negative path. You don't have to do drugs. I don't care what your friends are doing. I don't care what your older brother might have done. I don't care where you came from. I don't care about the fact that you had a broken family, or this was wrong in your life, or that was wrong in your life. I don't care about any of that.

You are a human being, with a brain and conscience of your own. You know what's right or wrong. And you have to do the best you can with what you have. So, don't let any of these negative elements in your background be an excuse.

You can climb out of it; other people have climbed out of it. And therefore, commit yourself to climbing out of it. Set a goal for yourself. Don't make it, "I'm going to be a general," or "I'm going to be the President of the United States." I'm going to finish school. I am going to get through this week without doing drugs. I don't care what my buddy down the street tries to make me do, it isn't going to happen. I am not going to get involved in violence. I am not going to allow peer pressure to force me to do something that those little fuses in my stomach tell me I should not be doing.

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This page last revised on May 15, 2012 14:45 EDT
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