Colin Powell: Being Responsible

Gen. Colin L. Powell, 1989 | National Archives

Colin Powell died today. Not knowing the man, I nevertheless mourn his loss. He was a leader in a world desperately in need of leadership.

On Twitter (and other platforms, no doubt), critics used the occasion to remind us of times he pissed people off. LIke all public figures, his actions affected the lives of many, making it easy for us to find fault. But then, as he himself taught:

Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.

“Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable, if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity; you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in your organization.” ~ C. Powell, “A Leadership Primer

It’s the easiest thing in the world to piss people off. It’s less easy to do so consciously, knowing the personal cost and pressing forward anyway because it will help others be better. That’s a selflessness worth aspiring to.

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