Colin Powell Quotes


Colin Powell (1937-2021) was an American military leader, statesman, and diplomat. He was born in Harlem, New York City and grew up in the South Bronx. Powell attended City College of New York, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology. After college, he joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and served in Vietnam, rising through the ranks to become a four-star general.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the first African American to hold that position. Powell served in this role during the Gulf War, helping to lead the coalition forces to victory against Iraq.

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After retiring from the military in 1993, Powell became involved in politics and served as the U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. During his time as Secretary of State, Powell played a key role in the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Powell was also the author of several books, including his autobiography “My American Journey” and “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” He received numerous awards and honors throughout his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Powell passed away on October 18, 2021.

This collection of Colin Powell Quotes will empower and motivate you to reach new heights. Join us as we delve into the transformative words of Colin Powell and unlock the secrets to becoming a truly extraordinary leader.

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Colin Powell’s profound quotes about leadership, serving as a beacon to ignite your motivation and drive.

Famous Colin Powell Quotes

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

2. Stop, Look, Listen—then strike hard and fast with all the power you need.

3. Never neglect details.

4. I get over it quickly and never lose control of myself.

I get over it quickly and never lose control of myself. - Colin Powell

5. The essence of leadership is building bonds of trust in your organization.

6. The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.

7. 1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

8. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. — General Colin Powell

9. 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

10. 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.

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11. Effective leaders are made, not born. They learn from trial and error, and from experience.

12. You break it, you’re going to own it.

13. 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.

14. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life giving speeches.

15. We can seldom get our children to do what we tell them, but they almost never fail to imitate us.

16. The freedom to be your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best.

17. Always focus on the front windshield and not the rear-view mirror.

18. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world and it will always be a part of my record, Powell said in a television interview.

19. Don’t let your ego get too close to your position so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn’t go with it.

20. never, never, never give up.

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21. Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard. - Colin Powell

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

23. 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.

24. You don’t step on enthusiasm.

25. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

26. My own experience is use the tools that are out there. Use the digital world. But never lose sight of the need to reach out and talk to other people who don’t share your view. Listen to them and see if you can find a way to compromise.

27. Always be looking for that which you do well and that which you love doing, and when you find those two things together — man, you got it.

28. All work is honorable. Always do your best because someone is watching.

29. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.

30. Leadership is about solving problems. The day employees stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or conclude you do not care. Either case is a failure on leadership. -Colin Powell, Politician

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31. When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision is made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own., Colin Powell quotes on decision making

32. ‘The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.” – George Washington, 1st President of the United States, and Commanding General of the Continental Army

33. If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.

34. 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. -Colin Powell, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

35. A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.

36. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.

37. 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.

38. Never get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.

39. Be careful what you choose: You may get it.

40. I was taught to think about mission and people. Mission. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t do anything until you know what the mission is. Drilled into our hearts and into our heads.

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41. 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.

42. Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals.

43. Dig up all the information you can, then go with your instincts.

Dig up all the information you can, then go with your instincts. - Colin Powell

44. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.

45. 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.

46. There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

47. There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

48. 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.

49. 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.

50. Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.

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51. Loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not.

52. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.

53. We need to understand that we as citizens and as a government in any community throughout this country have no more important obligation than to educate those who are going to replace us.

54. Never believe the first thing you hear.

55. 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?

56. Experts often possess more data than judgment.

57. Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.

58. A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

59. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’

60. Get mad, then get over it.

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61. 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?

62. It ain’t where you start in life, it’s where you end up, and what you did along the way.

It ain’t where you start in life, it’s where you end up, and what you did along the way. - Colin Powell

63. 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.

64. People seem to be awfully gullible. They’ll believe anything. ~in The NPR Interviews, 1996, edited by Robert Siegel

65. Good leaders must know how to reward those who succeed and know when to retrain, move, or fire ineffective staff.

66. A dream doesnt become reality through magic,it takes sweat,determination and hardwork

67. You know you’re a good leader when people follow you out of curiosity.

68. Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.

69. The infantry’s mission was to close with and destroy the enemy. No questions asked. No ambiguity. No gray areas. The infantry officer was to go into battle up front, demonstrating courage, determination, strength, proficiency, and selfless sacrifice.

70. If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude.

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71. Look at the world. There is no pure competitor to the United States of America.

72. All work is honorable.

73. Be scared, but keep going. Being scared is usually transient. It will pass.

74. The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.

75. Don’t just show kindness in passing or to be courteous, Powell said.

76. Control enthusiasm in the face of victories, large or small.

77. The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action.

78. 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.

79. I’m not perfect but I’ll be the creator of perfection.

80. I have learned from most of the people I’ve met, and I have tried to inspire the people I have led, Powell wrote. Life and leadership can’t be about me. They have to be about us.

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81. I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.

82. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.

83. Never get so close to your position that when the position goes, your ego goes with it.

84. The day the soldiers stop bringing their problems is the day you stopped leading them, he wrote.

85. Each of us is a product of all our experiences and all our interactions with other people.

86. All children need a laptop. Not a computer, but a human laptop. Moms, Dads, Grannies and Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles – someone to hold them, read to them, teach them. Loved ones who will embrace them and pass on the experience, rituals, and knowledge of a hundred previous generations. Loved ones who will pass to the next generation their expectations of them, their hopes, and their dreams.

87. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. - Colin Powell

88. I’m not perfect, but I’ll be the creator of perfection.

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

90. Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself.

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91. I learned what it meant when soldiers brought you problems, even problems as perplexing as that of the eighteen-year-old dual lover, Powell wrote.

92. Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.

93. If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool.

94. War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support.

95. Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.

96. 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.

97. Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it, spend time with your families.

98. 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.

99. Hope is not a strategy

100. The ties that bind us are stronger than the occasional stresses that separate us.

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