I only met General Colin Powell once where we exchanged greetings and pleasantries. I heard him speak one other time.
At that meeting here in Minnesota, he met again South Vietnamese Colonel Vo Cong Hieu. Both men were tearful when hugging each other. I knew Col. Hieu in the Vietnamese community here.
After his promotion to captain in 1962, Powell received orders for Vietnam. Powell was a senior tactical adviser to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). That ARVN unit executed search and destroy operations against invading North Vietnamese communist regulars in the highly contested A Shau Valley near the Laotian border.
Powell developed a close bond with Capt. Vo Cong Hieu, a respected commander of the 2nd Battalion. Hieu appreciated Powell’s counsel on training, fortification techniques and combat tactics. Powell worked carefully to be “useful without taking over,” he later wrote in his memoir. On long jungle patrols, the battalion came under frequent sniper attack and suffered gruesome casualties. Mindful that he was a role model for the South Vietnamese infantrymen, the American adviser consciously tamed his own anxieties. “Every morning,” Powell wrote, “I had to use my training and self-discipline to control my fear and move on. As a leader, I could show no fear.”
Early in his assignment, when his ARVN battalion was attacked, Powell charged into the jungle in hot pursuit of the enemy, but before long, he realized that not a single soldier had followed him. On another occasion, when his battalion was on patrol, a U.S. marine helicopter gunner accidentally killed two soldiers in Powell’s unit. “This bloody blunder had undermined their belief in me,” Powell recalled. But his credibility rebounded when a U.S.-made protective vest saved a Vietnamese private on lead patrol. Powell had insisted that the vest be worn. Thereafter, soldiers hailed the American as “a leader of wisdom and foresight.”
As I wrote in the last chapter of my book Moral Capitalism, moral capitalism does not happen on its own; it must be made to happen. And those who make it happen must be leaders.
The same is more true for moral government.
Later in life, General Powell set forth 13 rules for leadership:
1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2. Get mad, then get over it.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4. It can be done.
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
8. Check small things.
9. Share credit.
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
I commend these to you.