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80 Best It Worked For Me In Life And Leadership Quotes

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1. “Each of us is a product of all our experiences and all our interactions with other people.”


2. “Late that year, one of the soldiers stationed at the prison [Abu Ghraib] reported the abuses to his superiors and said that photos had been taken by the abusers. The commanders in Iraq immediately took action and took steps to launch an investigation. Soon after that the news reached Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told President Bush in early January 2004 that incidents at Abu Ghraib were being looked into. It seems nobody told these senior leaders that these incidents were truly horrendous.”


3. “The day you are not solving problems or are not up to your butt in problems is probably a day you are no longer leading. If your desk is clean and no one is bringing you problems, you should be very worried. It means that people don't think you can solve them or don't want to hear about them. Or, far worse, it means they don't think you care.”


4. “we can solve any problem.”


5. “Problems come with just being alive, and even more come with responsibility. When they come, you just suck it up and get started again. You are never caught up. I’ve lived by the proposition that solving problems is what leaders do. The day you are not solving problems or are not up to your butt in problems is probably a day you are no longer leading. If your desk is clean and no one is bringing you problems, you should be very worried. It means that people don’t think you can solve them or don’t want to hear about them. Or, far worse, it means they don’t think you care. Either way it means your followers have lost confidence in you and you are no longer their leader, no matter what your rank or the title on your door.”


6. “there was a human interest segment about a street sweeper on the evening news. I think he worked in Philadelphia. He was a black gentleman and swept streets the old-fashioned way, with one of those wide, stiff bristle brooms and a wheeled garbage can. He had a wife and several children and lived in a modest home. It was a loving family, and he had high ambitions for his children. He enjoyed his job very much and felt he was providing a worthwhile service to his community. He had only one professional ambition in life and that was to get promoted to drive one of those mechanized street sweepers with big round brushes. He finally achieved his ambition and was promoted to driving a street sweeping machine. His wife and children were proud of him. The television piece closed with him driving down the street; a huge smile was on his face. He knew who he was and what he was. I run that video piece through my mind every few months as a reality check. Here is a man happy in his work, providing an essential service for his community, providing for his family, who love and respect him. Have I been more successful in what is truly important in life than he has been? No, we have both been fortunate. He has touched all the important bases in the game of life. When we are ultimately judged, despite my titles and medals, he may have a few points on me, and on a lot of others I know.”


7. “A maintenance shop with dirty mechanics, parts strewn around, and no senior officers lurking told me more about the state of maintenance than any formal quarterly reports.”


8. “The most influential people in my life will never show up on a Google search.”


9. “Fear and failure are always present. Accept them as part of life and learn how to manage these realities. Be scared, but keep going. Being scared is usually transient. It will pass. If you fail, fix the causes and keep going.”


10. “Even on factory assembly lines respect and trust between leaders and followers may inspire line workers to exceed design expectations and motivate them not to slack off. Respect for leaders by followers can't be mandated; it must be earned. It has to be given to leaders by their followers.”


11. “One night back in the 1970s, I was driving home to my quarters at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where I had commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division for about a year, when I saw in the dark a soldier walking along the road heading for the gate. He probably lived with his wife in the trailer park just outside the gate. I stopped and offered him a ride. “Why are you going home so late?” I asked him as we drove along. “My buddies and I’ve been working hard to get ready for an inspector general inspection coming up,” he answered. Then he looked at me. “Sir, who are you?” he asked. “I’m your brigade commander,” I told him, taken aback. “How long have you been in command?” he asked. “Over a year,” I said. “Is it a good job?” he asked. “Yes, great,” I replied. Jeez, after a year of being all over the brigade area, here is a soldier who doesn’t recognize me. Something’s wrong. “How do you think you guys will do in the inspection?” I then asked. “We’ll do great,” he answered. “We’ve been working hard for weeks, and my captain, lieutenants, and sergeants have been pushing us. They’ve been telling us how important the inspection is; they’ve been working just as hard as we have.” Then he said simply, “We’re not going to let them down.”


12. “Always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it. Though others may have greater responsibility for it than you do, don’t look for that as an escape hatch. Once you have analyzed what went wrong and what you did wrong, internalize the lessons and then move on. As always, drive through life looking through the front windshield and not the rearview mirror. Don’t become one of those pests who can’t stop talking about their by now ancient slights, betrayals, hurts, or disasters. Don’t wallow with your sympathetic friends. Learn and move on.”


13. “Never Walk Past a Mistake This is one of the first lessons drilled into young military leaders. To put it another way: make on-the-spot corrections.”


14. “I believe that when you first take over a new outfit, start out trusting the people there unless you have real evidence not to. If you trust them, they will trust you, and those bonds will strengthen over time. They will work hard to make sure you do well. They will protect you and cover you. They will take care of you.”


15. “One day at the State Department, about two in the afternoon, I was wandering around and ran into a young lady leaving the building. She did not seem to recognize me, or else she didn’t let me know that she recognized me. I asked her why she was leaving so early. “I’m on flextime,” she told me. “I started at seven a.m.” That got me curious; I didn’t know much about flextime. I fell in stride with her and talked about how it worked for her and her fellow employees. I learned more about the program than I had ever heard from my staff. It was a good program, I realized—worth expanding. Meanwhile, she still didn’t acknowledge who I was. To needle her, I said, “Gee, I’d like to get flextime. How did you do it?” “Ask your immediate supervisor,” she responded. “I’ll do that on Monday, after he comes down from Camp David,” I told her. She didn’t miss a beat. “Good,” she said. “I hope you get it.” She went through the door and I stood there not knowing if I’d been had. But I had learned a lot about flextime, a small thing for me, but a big thing for her and lots of my employees.”


16. “This was the closest anybody in Iraq came to finding WMDs.


17. “No matter how significant or life-changing your greatest hit or miss might be, neither even begins to define who you are. Each of us is a product of all our experiences and all our interactions with other people. To cite calculus, we are the area under the curve.”


18. “Leaders need to know ground truth and not just what they get from reports and staffs.”


19. “Three Envelopes Construct.” The outgoing leader gives the new leader three envelopes—labeled “Envelope 1,” “Envelope 2,” and “Envelope 3”—and tells him to open them in order if he runs into trouble. The new leader launches in a blaze of glory. But after a month or so, troubles start landing on him. He opens the first envelope, and the note inside says: “Blame me.” So he goes around complaining about the mess he inherited. Things settle down, but a couple of months later he is back in trouble. He opens the second envelope: “Reorganize.” He immediately starts a major study to determine the kind of reorganization that would improve the situation. For months, the reorganization study moves all the boxes and people around and creates a new paradigm. Everyone is distracted. The new paradigm looks exciting, but nothing is solved and everyone is confused. The now no longer new commander is in dire straits and beside himself with worry. In desperation he opens the third envelope. The note says: “Prepare three envelopes.”


20. “During my career I’ve worked with intelligence agencies and experts of every kind, from a young lieutenant, battalion-level intelligence officer to all sixteen branches of the U.S. intelligence community. With rare exceptions, intelligence analysts do all they can to give you the information and facts you need to understand the enemy and the situation and come up with the best decision.”


21. “You know what? You just suck it up and get started again. It’s a new day in which to excel.”


22. “To single out your worst failure or least favorite person will surely make news . . . and your obituary writer’s day.”


23. “Leaders must embed their own sense of purpose into the heart and soul of every follower. The purpose starts from the leader at the top, and through infectious, dynamic, passionate leadership, it is driven down throughout the organization. Every follower has his own organizational purpose that connects with the leader’s overall purpose.”


24. “What is a leader?” people ask me. My simple answer: “Someone unafraid to take charge. Someone people respond to and are willing to follow.” I believe that leaders must be born with a natural connection and affinity to others, which then must be encouraged and developed by parents and teachers and molded by training, experience, and mentoring. You can learn to be a better leader. And you can also waste your natural talents by ceasing to learn and grow.”


25. “As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”


26. “The other lawyer looked at him and said, “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” In short, accept that your position was faulty, not your ego. This doesn’t mean you don’t argue with passion and intensity.”


27. “Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire every follower at every level to internalize their purpose, and to understand that their purpose goes far beyond the mere details of their job. When everyone is united in purpose, a positive purpose that serves not only the organization but also, hopefully, the world beyond it, you have a winning team.”


28. “We [the United States] are trusted. We are trusted to fight aggression, to relieve suffering, to serve as inspiration to freedom-seeking people, to stand alongside our friends, and to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of other lands yearning to breathe free. That is who we have been, now are, and always must be.”


29. “1. IT AIN’T AS BAD AS YOU THINK. IT WILL LOOK BETTER IN THE MORNING. Well, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. This rule reflects an attitude and not a prediction. I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up, no matter how difficult the situation. A good night’s rest and the passage of just eight hours will usually reduce the infection. Leaving the office at night with a winning attitude affects more than you alone; it also conveys that attitude to your followers. It strengthens their resolve to believe we can solve any problem.”


30. “need you. I’ve often heard blowhard leaders boast, “My outfit is so good, it could function well without me.” Hmm, then why do they need you?”


31. “Loyalty is disagreeing strongly, and loyalty is executing faithfully. The decision is not about you or your ego; it is about gathering all the information, analyzing it, and trying to get the right answer. I still love you, so get mad and get over it.”


32. “I’ve learned a simple and obvious truth from my own education experience: We have to give every kid in America the access to public education that I received. We need to place public education at the top of our priorities and the center of our national”


33. “Humans are not by nature solitary. They need to connect with other human beings to share dreams and fears, to lean on each other, to enhance each other.”


34. “I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up, no matter how difficult the situation.”


35. “What drove my final choice was the reality that I did not wake up a single morning wanting to be president or with the fire and passion needed for a successful campaign. I was not a political figure. It was not me. Once I accepted what that instinct was telling me, the choice was clear, the decision easy. I get asked almost daily if I have any regrets. The answer is no.”


36. “Share the credit, take the blame, and quietly find out and fix things that went wrong. A psychotherapist who owned a school for severely troubled kids had a rule: “Whenever you place the cause of one of your actions outside yourself, it’s an excuse and not a reason.” This rule works for everybody, but it works especially for leaders.”


37. “The ties that bind us are stronger than the occasional stresses that separate us.”


38. “The lesson was clear: Don’t just show kindness in passing or to be courteous. Show it in depth, show it with passion, and expect nothing in return. Kindness is not just about being nice; it’s about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect.”


39. “No good idea succeeds simply because it is a good idea. Good ideas must have champions—people willing to believe in them, push for them, fight for them, gain adherents and other champions, and press until they succeed.”


40. “When I left the State Department, I was flattered by offers of top positions in major corporations, most of them in the financial world. The monetary rewards were stunning and the work not terribly demanding. I was told I didn’t need to know anything about banking, finance, or exotic financial instruments like hedge funds and derivatives. Experts would be present to help me. One investment bank pressed me hard, repeatedly upping the money and the title. The offers were definitely tempting. I understood the financial and social value of these positions. But my instincts said no. Did they want me for what I could do for them? Or did they want me for the celebrity I could bring them? My instincts said I would mostly be a door opener and a dinner host.”


41. “I encouraged all my subordinate commanders and staff to feel free to argue with me. My guidance was simple: “Disagree with me, do it with feeling, try to convince me you are right and I am about to go down the wrong path. You owe that to me; that’s why you are here. But don’t be intimidated when I argue back. A moment will come when I have heard enough and I make a decision. At that very instant, I expect all of you to execute my decision as if it were your idea. Don’t damn the decision with faint praise, don’t mumble under your breath—we now all move out together to get the job done.”


42. “Standards must be achievable (though achieving them will always require extra effort), and the leaders must provide the means to get there. The focus should always be on getting better and better. We must always reach for the better way.”


43. “IT AIN’T AS BAD AS YOU THINK. IT WILL LOOK BETTER IN THE MORNING.”


44. “People need recognition and a sense of worth as much as they need food and water.”


45. …I was bewildered - Colin Powell”


46. “Whenever you place the cause of one of your actions outside yourself, it’s an excuse and not a reason.”


47. “I again suppressed a smile. Time didn't permit an exposition about the place of the dairy lobby in the American political system.”


48. “One way is to leave the top floor and its grand accoutrements and get down into the bowels for real. Don’t tell anyone you are coming. Avoid advance notices that produce crash cleanups, frantic preparations, and PowerPoint presentations.”


49. “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” In short, accept that your position was faulty, not your ego.”


50. “We have been married to the French for more than 230 years . . . and in marriage counseling with them for more than 230 years;”


51. “I also made a beeline for the latrine. Not just to see if it was clean. Was there a shortage of toilet paper, were any mirrors cracked, were there any missing showerheads? Finding any of these situations immediately told me one of several things—the unit is running short of upkeep money, no one is checking on these things to get them fixed, or the troops are not being supervised well enough. Find out which and fix it.”


52. “These experiences established a pattern for all the years and careers that came afterward. Always do your best, no matter how difficult the job, or how much you dislike it, your bosses, the work environment, or your fellow workers. As the old expression goes, if you take the king’s coin, you give the king his due.”


53. “Perpetual optimism, believing in yourself, believing in your purpose, believing you will prevail, and demonstrating passion and confidence is a force multiplier. If you believe and have prepared your followers, the followers will believe.”


54. “Butch knew before he walked in that he was entering the lion’s den, and he wasn’t surprised when he got thrown out. Word quickly spread around the Pentagon, as it always does when things like that happen. Not long after I heard about it I ran into Butch in a hallway. As we walked along, I offered him comforting words. “Hey,” he said quietly, “he don’t pay me to give him happy talk.”


55. “The last scene showed a cavernous room in a subbasement filled with hundreds of black trash bags, the building’s daily detritus. Standing in front of the bags were five guys in work clothes. Their job, their mission, their goal was to toss these bags into waiting trash trucks. The camera focused on one of the men. The narrator asked, “What’s your job?” The answer to anyone watching was painfully obvious. But the guy smiled and said to the camera, “Our job is to make sure that tomorrow morning when people from all over the world come to this wonderful building, it shines, it is clean, and it looks great.” His job was to drag bags, but he knew his purpose. He didn’t feel he was just a trash hauler. His work was vital, and his purpose blended into the purpose of the building’s most senior management eighty floors above. Their purpose was to make sure that this masterpiece of a building always welcomed and awed visitors, as it had done on opening day, May 1, 1931. The building management can only achieve their purpose if everyone on the team believes in it as strongly as the smiling guy in the subbasement.”


56. “There's an old Army officer tradition. When you leave a post, you write 'ppc' on the back of your business card and pin it to the officers' club bulletin board or similar public place. 'Ppc' is an acronym for a French term pour prendre conge, in English, 'to take leave.' It was our final departing courtesy”


57. “I worked hard all my life and always expected those who worked for me to do likewise. But I tried not to generate make-work. I learned early that a complete life includes more than work. We need family, rest, outside interests, and time to pursue them. I always keep in mind a lesson taught to all young infantry lieutenants: “Don’t run if you can walk; don’t stand up if you can sit down; don’t sit down if you can lie down; and don’t stay awake if you can go to sleep.”


58. “You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.”


59. “Once in Korea, we got word that the admiral commanding Pacific forces would be visiting our post and would walk through my battalion area. I was delighted. We lived in ancient, disgusting Quonset huts; we couldn’t get parts for the stoves or paint for the outside. Because we were short of paint, I was told to paint the front but not the back of the mess hall the admiral would walk by. He walked by and saw the fresh paint. It was so fresh compared to everything else he saw that he wasn’t fooled. We should have sat down and told him our problems and not forced him to be a detective.”


60. “we’d practiced the ceremony to perfection, the day came. As we stood there in the sun waiting for it to begin, the Gunfighter signaled me to come up to the reviewing stand for new instructions. He directed me to return to the formation and order all the officers to do an about-face and gaze at their troops. I was then to order the officers to salute their soldiers. We conducted the ceremony, and the officers turned as he had directed and saluted the troops. It was a deeply moving moment. The gesture was the only way he could truly show that credit for his success belonged to the soldiers who had served under him.”


61. “Let me know about a problem as soon as you know about it.”


62. “If you take the pay, earn it. Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are. Don’t disappoint yourself.”


63. “No matter how significant or life-changing your greatest hit or miss might be, neither even begins to define all of who you are. Each of us is a product of all our experiences and all our interactions with other people. To cite calculus, we are the area under the curve.”


64. “ON BUSY BASTARDS: A busy bastard can’t stop finding things to do. He never rests and as a result, his staff never rests. He’s always making work that expands to fill whatever time is available. The point I make in my book is: Be busy, work hard, but don’t become so busy that you cut out other things in life, like family and recreation and hobbies. And never be so busy that you’re not giving your staff and your followers enough time to do the same thing.”


65. “Each of us must work to become a hardheaded realist, or else we risk wasting our time and energy pursuing impossible dreams. Yet constant naysayers pursue no less impossible dreams. Their fear and cynicism move nothing forward. They kill progress. How many cynics built empires, great cities, or powerful corporations?”


66. “Never Walk Past a Mistake”


67. “As the old expression goes, if you take the king’s coin, you give the king his due.”


68. “To achieve his purpose, a successful leader must set demanding standards and make sure they are met. Followers want to be “in a good outfit,” as we say in the Army. I never saw a good unit that wasn’t always stretching to meet a higher standard. The stretching was often accompanied by complaints about the effort required. But when the new standard was met, the followers celebrated with high-fives, pride, and playful gloating.”


69. “They get to pick the question. You get to pick the answer. 2. You don’t have to answer any question you don’t want to. 3. Never lie or dissemble, of course; but beware of being too candid or open. 4. Never answer hypothetical questions about the future. 5. Never reveal the private advice you have given your superiors. 6. Answers should be directed to the message you want readers/viewers to get. The interviewers are not your audience. 7. They’re doing their job. You’re doing yours. But you’re the only one at risk. 8. Don’t predict or speculate about future events. 9. Beware slang or one-liners unless you are consciously trying to produce a sound bite. 10. Don’t wash dirty linen. 11. Do not answer any question containing a premise you disagree with. 12. Don’t push yourself or be pushed into an answer you don’t want to give. 13. If trapped, be vague and mumble. 14. Never cough or shift your feet.”


70. “never, never, never give up.”


71. “Few people make sound or sustainable decisions in an atmosphere of chaos. The more serious the situation, usually accompanied by a deadline, the more likely everyone will get excited and bounce around like water on a hot skillet. At those times I try to establish a calm zone but retain a sense of urgency. Calmness protects order, ensures that we consider all the possibilities, restores order when it breaks down, and keeps people from shouting over each other. You are in a storm. The captain must steady the ship, watch all the gauges, listen to all the department heads, and steer through it. If the leader loses his head, confidence in him will be lost and the glue that holds the team together will start to give way. So assess the situation, move fast, be decisive, but remain calm and never let them see you sweat.”


72. “that solving problems is what leaders do. The day you are not solving problems or are not up to your butt in problems is probably a day you are no longer leading.”


73. “I get over it quickly and never lose control of myself.”


74. “When things go badly, it is your fault, not theirs. You are responsible. Analyze how it happened, make the necessary fixes, and move on. No mass punishment or floggings. Fire people if you need to, train harder, insist on a higher level of performance, give halftime rants if that shakes a group up. But never forget that failure is your responsibility.”


75. “You can leave behind you a good reputation. But the only thing of momentous value we leave behind is the next generation, our kids—all our kids. We all need to work together to give them the gift of a good start in life.”


76. “Bad ideas don’t die simply because they are intrinsically bad. You need people who will stand up and fight them, put themselves at risk, point out the weaknesses, and drive stakes through their hearts.”


77. “• Tell me what you know. • Tell me what you don’t know. • Then tell me what you think. • Always distinguish which from which.”


78. “it is more about attitude than reality. Maybe it can’t be done, but always start out believing you can get it done until facts and analysis pile up against it. Have a positive and enthusiastic approach to every task. Don’t surround yourself with instant skeptics. At the same time, don’t shut out skeptics and colleagues who give you solid counterviews. “It can be done” should not metamorphose into a blindly can-do approach, which leaves you running into brick walls. I try to be an optimist, but I try not to be stupid.”


79. “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”


80. “I’ve often heard blowhard leaders boast, “My outfit is so good, it could function well without me.” Hmm, then why do they need you?”


If you're looking for more Colin Powell quotes, check out another blog I've written with 500 Of His Quotes.

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