Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell Research Proposal

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Leadership Powell

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. Oren Harari. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002. 278 pages.

Despite humble beginnings in Harlem, Colin Powell's life and career made him a four star general, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and saw him retire from the post of Secretary of State, the highest foreign policy office in the United States. His two tours in Vietnam, his position as national security advisor to President Regan, and his position of command in the first Gulf war, Operation Desert Storm, all helped to form and reflect the basic leadership principles that made Powell such a success in the military and public service, and such an inspiration to many in America and around the world. These principles are explicitly described by Oren Harari in the Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, a book which promises to shape the face of leadership in both the public sector and the business world if its lessons re heeded and taken to heart.

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As a professor of management at the University of San Francisco, Harari certainly intends for his immensely readable volume to be used in business administration programs as well as in other leadership courses. This intention might be thwarted by Powell's -- and Harari's -- insistence that theories of management are virtually worthless, a contention that if accepted by the academic community would leave many current professors and authors without a job. But be that as it may, this book is far more understandable and more directly applicable to the practical concerns of leadership on a day-to-day basis than most texts on various management and leadership theories, while remaining anticipatory of and responsive to long-term and big-picture scenarios and goals. Powell's approach to leadership was highly practical and down-to-earth, and Harari's tone matches the attitude of his subject incredibly well.

Research Proposal on Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell Assignment

Though the Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell details many of the specific events and typifies many of the general periods in Powell's life and career, the book does not attempt to be a complete biography, nor should it be read as such. Rather, Harari presents the episodes he (and presumably General Powell himself) found essential in the formation of the leadership principles identified and exemplified by Powell. This book is not an inspirational story of someone's life from which lessons can be gleaned, but rather it is a leadership instruction manual based on the intensely honest and unapologetic life of a man who has spent the majority of his adult years leading others, and doing it well. The true grit and no-nonsense attitude that Powell espouses as the only real way to lead comes through Harari's text as clearly and neatly as the subject of its inspiration and title could demand, without any extraneous fluff.

As a case in point, Harari wastes absolutely no time setting the tone for the book or outlining the principles Powell credits with making him such an effective leader. The first chapter is titled "Know When to Piss People Off," and after initially stressing Powell's undying politeness and even keel, the chapter goes on to explain Powell's belief that no good leader can ever make everybody happy at the same time. Not being afraid to confront others in order to improve the success of an organization is the first of many lessons that Harari presents in his book, with ample anecdotal evidence and explanation from Powell himself to give the rather straightforward and self-apparently effective advice added credence and strength.

The book is organized similarly throughout, with the basic lesson of each chapter presented early and directly -- usually in the title of the chapter itself -- with biographic information and ruminations from General Powell forming the bulk of the text. harari's hand and voice are evident throughout, but it is also clear that Powell is the type of figure that leads even when he is unaware of it. His approach and basic philosophy of leadership inform every aspect of the book, making it completely practical and non-ephemeral. There is no mention of team-building seminars or proactive communication; building teams requires communication, and according to Powell it is up to the leader of an organization to ensure that such communication is affected honestly and directly -- and no one should need a week at the airport Ramada engaged in role playing and trust exercises in order to figure this out. Powell believes in facing every situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, and never ruled by platitude. The absence of organizational charts, affirmations and aphorisms stands out conspicuously in a book that purports to be a management text, but they are not exactly missed.

Harari makes it clear, however, that Powell never led thoughtlessly or without placing his decisions in larger contexts -- just the opposite in fact. He simply did not believe that any single decision-making process could ever be equally effective in all situations. There is no magic management potion, in other words. Even the title of the Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell is revealed as somewhat tongue-in-cheek by halfway through the book; there are no dramatic revelations or hidden gems of innovative thought, but rather a calm and honest elucidation of those principles we were taught to admire in leaders as children, but which were forgotten by most -- honesty, accountability, recognition of others, a willingness to be proven wrong and the ability to take it gracefully, and the gumption to stick to one's guns until that time.

Due to the direct and even basic nature of the wisdom found in this book, it is difficult to come up with even a single assertion in its pages that is unsubstantiated or could reasonably be argued with. This has less to do with the respect and presence that the figure of Colin Powell presents than it does with his and Harari's blunt method of laying out the facts. The length of the book also illustrates this point; though it manages to provide both a comprehensive view of General Powell's leadership philosophy and many of the details and episodes of his life and career, it comes in significantly under three hundred pages. Succinct hardly begins to describe the tone of the book or the advice it imparts; terse is a somewhat closer description, yet the candor and unmistakable goodwill with which the information is imparted renders this term too harsh. It can simply said that Harari and Powell are to the point, and never off it.

In fact, it might be too much to the point if Harari truly hopes for it to have success in academic leadership classes and programs, especially in the world of business management and administration. Aside from the fact that it directly denigrates some longtime favorite institutions and practices in the world of business education and practice, such as the attitude that inspires many of the afore-mentioned business seminars, the book is simply too accessible to be considered an academic text by mainstream standards. Though this certainly implies a failure on the part of academia rather than on Harari, it must be acknowledged that this is simply not the average leadership text. Ironically, it is probably somewhat closer to your grandfather's text, if your grandfather happened to study management, with a tone and attitude approaching Dale Carnegie's in his seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The book is also meticulously researched and indexed, yet little real use is made of the resources Harari engaged himself with in the writing of the book, other than to substantiate and clarify Powell's assertions and descriptions. This, too, cannot really be considered a failing on Harari's part, however, as his intention was primarily to present Powell's sense of what it takes to lead, and what it means to be a leader. The substantiation of facts is important… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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