Think Again: Lead with interest, determination, faith

Educate our youth, be productive, invest in tools and training, show interest in those on your team, and engage in the political process, voting out those who do not compromise, advised General Colin Powell (Ret.) at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011.
By Mark T. Hoske September 30, 2011

General Colin Powell at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011; Courtesy PMMIGreat leaders are great simplifiers, getting to the core of what’s needed. Wisdom flowed on Sept. 27 from a retired general to those interested in optimizing use of automation, controls, and instrumentation. General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) four-star general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security advisor, former secretary of state, also has applied his leadership to America’s Promise Alliance for youth, motivational speaking, and various other boards. He said we need to educate our youth, be productive, invest in tools and training, show interest in those on our team, and engage in the political process, voting out those who do not compromise. Paraphrasing the Leadership Lecture at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011, General Powell talked about:

-Appreciation. I worked in a Pepsi bottling plant as a youth. I love machines and seeing how things are made and how you make products safe and attractive.

Education. It is a catastrophe that 25% of U.S. youth and 50% of minority youth are not graduating high school, especially when high-technology professions cannot find enough skilled labor to hire. And, within the next generation, minorities will comprise more than half the U.S. population. Youth need education, health care, mentors, and skills to excel in 21st century society. Promise Alliance organization gathers resources to prepare children and youth for college, work, and life.

Productivity, even in retirement. When I retired from public service, I got up at 6 a.m., looked across the kitchen table at Alma, my wife of 49 years, and announced, “This is the first day of the rest of our lives together.” She gave me a look that suggested I better find something to do.

Perseverance. Find ways to deal with what life dishes out. It’s a great pleasure to be here. At this stage of life, over 70, it’s a great pleasure to be anywhere. Transitioning to retirement can create an emotional gap, and something is needed to fill that emptiness. For anyone over 70 with any kind of malady, if practical, I would strongly suggest buying a Corvette. It’s great therapy. The police in my area of Virginia all know me now. I think they have contests on who’s going to catch me next. An officer pulls me over, comes up to the car, salutes me…and then writes me a ticket.

Confidence. Around the country, there’s an amazing sense of optimism and confidence. We’ve always had challenges. We just need to grab the will to do what we need to do. I wish I could bottle the optimism I see throughout the country, take it to Washington, and dump it over the heads of politicians.

Participation. Change what isn’t working. Many people are concerned about the country and the inability of politicians to work together to resolve problems. A recent poll gave Congress an 88% disapproval rating. People ask me to do something about the frozen political system. As of Sept. 27, Congress hasn’t passed an appropriation bill in a year and a half. But don’t look at me. You have the power to do something if they don’t. Vote ’em all out.

Embracing change. I was born analog and desperately want to become digital. I’m fascinated by the information age and the opportunities to knock down barriers. Today’s generation thinks differently as a result of the digital world. My granddaughter screeched to a halt when a two-year-old in the backseat yelled “stop,” explaining that without turning on the GPS, they wouldn’t know which way to go.

When my 17-year-old grandson wasn’t answering e-mail or calls, and I was concerned, “Poppy,” he told me, “You need a Twitter account and to get on Facebook.” I told him I don’t need to tweet, and I’m too old to be “social.” After finding that someone had impersonated me on Facebook, I was outraged. “But, Poppy,” my grandson said, “you have 33,000 friends.” I’m reconsidering being social.

Second chances. After attending City College of New York with below-average grades, they noted I had straight “A” ROTC grades for the 4.5 years I was there. They made an exception, factored those in, brought me up to a 2.0 average, and graduated me, so I could join the Army. Recently they welcomed me back. Now, I’m one of the greatest sons of the City College of New York.

Pride. Believe in yourself. Don’t look backward. Look forward. Be your own role model. While my friend Tom Brokaw wrote a beautiful book about World War II, The Greatest Generation, there’s greatness in every generation. The current generation is the greatest, working in Iraq, Iran, and other places around the world. You all should be so very, very proud of them.

 -Humor and perspective. Someone asked if I miss anything about my years of service. I miss my airplane. I had a little 757. It was always there waiting for me. When I said goodbye, there was a band playing. I’d walk down the red carpet, up the stairs, sit down, someone would pour me a diet soda, and the plane would roll. When I travel now, it’s different. I’m in the TSA line with everyone else. And when they see me coming, they want to ensure everyone knows that no one gets any exceptions, so I often get the full treatment, bags swabbed, a pat down, and a full scan. I get really annoyed, but I cannot be too annoyed…because I helped put the system in place. And we are a lot safer now.

Leadership. Be yourself and lead, no matter where you are. When I accepted the position as secretary of state, Alma explained that I cannot be talking to people like I’m retaking strategic territory. She said I had to use diplomacy and pay attention to protocols. But put me anywhere, at any level, and I’m still going to act the same way, reflecting the principles I’ve learned. Leaders must put their followers in the best possible environment to get the job done. Every group of human beings has a purpose. No matter where you are, or at what level, help them reach that purpose. “Good morning, troops. How are you today?”

Investment. As secretary of state, I saw we were asking everyone to function with very old computers. The right tools and training make a difference. Replacing an ancient system, I bought 44,000 new computers to help people believe in our common purpose.

Contribution. I talk to people throughout any organization, often informally, ask questions, learn, and assure them that what they do is critically important to our overall purpose. But it’s more than talk. Leaders must be passionate about what they believe in, with intensity, personal ethical behavior, moral and physical courage, and a belief that what’s right will triumph. Focus inside the organization, certainly with monetary rewards, but also with gratitude. Sometimes it’s a hand on a shoulder with sincere thanks, or a few seconds to do a handwritten thank-you note. Gather support and learn from people. I learned through personal conversations in the basement garage (they asked me if I was lost) that face-to-face human interaction, like a good morning hello with the window down, is what would get priority treatment in the motor pool.

-Support and trust. Don’t ignore when things aren’t going right. You can do great things if you support your followers, and don’t just heap more on those doing the best work. Identify those who need better tools, retrain them, get them into more appropriate positions, or have the guts to do what’s necessary and fire them.  Good people will stay with you, through mistakes or lost market share, even if only out of curiosity to see what you’ll do next. Trust, throughout the organization, is the lubricant that moves teams forward.

See what’s possible. Yes, we have many challenges. There are 500 million people in the world in crisis, and we need to do something about that. But there are 7 billion others who are advancing. President Reagan called me into his office before he first met Soviet President Gorbachev. “I’m getting ready to meet him,” President Reagan told me, “but I want you to go first, and tell me everything he says.” I spent most of my life with two enemy empires trying to defeat us and was now meeting the leader of one face-to-face. Gorbachev spoke at length about how the world was changing, about openness, and what needed to be done. My face remained stern. “I have your KGB file here,” he told me. “I know you. If I cannot change you, I need your cooperation,” he said. With a sparkle in his eye, he leaned closer, and laughed, saying, “General, I’m so very sorry. You’ll have to find a new enemy.” His people had a terrible century and needed to change. And they did. As for China, they’re no longer our enemy either, except for shelf space at Wal-Mart. They’re our trading partner. Now the most powerful force is creating wealth. While we do that, we need to protect the environment and train our youth.

Freedom. We must ensure we don’t give the impression, while maintaining security, that we don’t want the rest of the world to come here. They should have the opportunity to learn in our universities, enjoy our recreational activities, and experience our healthcare. We will be diligent, and someday we may lose more lives and another building, but no terrorist can change our open, democratic, freedom-loving nation. Only we can do that. Let’s not, or they win.

-Land of opportunity. Every day, people line up in our consular offices throughout the world, saying, “I want to go to America.” We are the land of dreams and opportunities for all. A Japanese businessman who traveled all over the world was asked his favorite destination. “I like New York City best. People come to me and ask for directions.” I like New York City, too. I like to see churches, shops, and watch the world go by. I always have to stop at a pushcart for a hot dog, even as secretary of state. One time the vendor saw bodyguards and three New York City police cars, quickly put his hands up, and yelled, “I swear I have a green card!” Recently, I walked up for a hot dog, the vendor recognized me, and said, “No, General Powell, you cannot pay me. Take the hot dog, please. America has paid me. I will never forget what this country has done for me.” Then that feeling washes over me again. This is still the great country that welcomed my parents 90 years ago. And that spirit of opportunity continues to be our greatness. Thank you very much.

Question about presidency. When asked in 1985 if I would run for president, I considered. I’m not a political person. There’s not a single morning I woke up and thought, “I want to be president.” It’s not something my family wanted. There are so many qualified people. I’ll continue to find places to serve.

-Question about advice for today’s leaders. I met last Monday I met with freshman U.S. senators and explained to them that this country was founded on the basis of compromise. If those against slavery hadn’t compromised with slaveholders, we would not have become a country. Surely if they could compromise on that, we can get through today’s challenges. I think media outlets that highlight extremes have made it more difficult for political compromise. Don’t watch extremists. Tell your politicians you will vote out those who do not compromise to resolve the issues at hand. And never give up. Our history is filled with challenges, especially through the 1960s and 1970s. Even President Reagan, who said he wouldn’t raise taxes, did so 12 times. We know who Americans are and that we have faith that we’ll work through it.

General Colin L. Powell and his presentation at Pack Expo 2011

Former Secretary of State and retired General Colin L. Powell was the keynote speaker at Pack Expo Leadership Lecture during the 2011 Pack Expo Las Vegas, on Sept. 27.  PMMI, owner and producer of the Pack Expo family of trade shows, offered the lecture. General Powell’s address was titled "Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust & Values." General Powell, a retired four-star general, also served as National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed General Powell to be Secretary of State. General Powell held that position until 2005. For the past decade, he has been committed to improving the lives of America’s youth. He is the founding Chairman of America’s Promise Alliance—an organization that works with over 400 partner organizations to provide resources that build better lives for America’s youth. It’s based on “Five Promises” (caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, an effective education, and opportunities to help others).

General Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has received several distinguished military and civilian honors including two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the Soldier’s Medal. General Powell also founded the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at his alma mater, City College of New York, and has served on the boards of various nonprofit organizations.

DuPont and Morrison Container Handling Solutions were title sponsors. Dorner Mfg. Corp., Eastman Chemical Company, and Fox IV Technologies also offered support as gold sponsors.

More than 25,000 attended the conference and show, a record for the Pack Expo Las Vegas event; 1,633 companies exhibited in more than 630,000 ft2, according to show owner and producerPMMI. Launched in 1995, Pack Expo Las Vegas alternates with Pack Expo International in Chicago, with the Chicago show taking place in even years. (Next is Oct. 28-31, 2012, at McCormick Place.) Additional information and resources are available at

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