Leadership lessons from Gen. Colin Powell

colinpowellThe most important thing you have in your company are your people. Understanding that is vital for success, says retired general Colin Powell.

The former US secretary of state delivered a keynote address on diplomacy, persuasion and trust on the second morning of the NRF Big Show, in New York.

“You therefore have an obligation to take care of them, treat them well, to educate them, give them the training they need and give them the equipment they need,” Powell told the audience.

“Most importantly, as I like to say in my military assignments, give them a sense of purpose, not just a mission and a goal, and how much do we have to make next quarter,” Powell said.

He recounted leadership advice given to him early on in his military career by a higher ranking soldier: “You’ll know you’re a good leader when your troops will follow you if only out of curiosity.”

“But the word he was thinking of was not curiosity, it was trust,” Powell said.

“If they trust you, if they believe in you, if they know you’re taking care of them, they’ll do anything that you ask of them. That’s my experience, I’m sure it’s the experience of most of you in this room.”

Powell, addressing a room of retailers, spoke about his first job at a toy and children’s furniture store, in the south Bronx.

He got the job when he was 14 or 15 years old, he said, working for a Jewish Russian immigrant, and worked each summer and Christmas in the store for the next six or seven years.

“What I remember so vividly about that is that I learned what work is all about,” Powell said. “I learned to show up on time, I learned how to listen to what was happening in the store, I learned quite a bit of the Yiddish language and I’m pretty good at it.”

For more exclusive coverage of the NRF Big Show pick up a copy of the February issue of Inside Retail Magazine.

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