Keynote address at the 8th Annual Six Sigma Summit in Miami, Florida, USA

The Six Sigma crowd was on their feet before General Powell even said a word. The General launched his address by telling us he got an A in statistics at The George Washington University. That made all of us Six Sigma data heads happy. Now that he was in good with the crowd he went on to tell stories from his personal career that demonstrated effective leadership. A few of his thoughts paraphrased:

“Any manager who is not taking the most junior person in the company and listening to his/her innovative ideas is not being a good leader.” He told the story about a time when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and let the most junior guy at the table tell him his ideas. And again as Secretary of State he had the action officer (lowest person) brief the President on a situation. This sent a message of trust throughout the department, and did wonders for morale.

“It is empowering to know that you can take your idea to the top of the organization.” As Brigadier General, Powell consistently kept to the same walk routine in the afternoons. This simple action sent a message to his subordinates that they could always reach him. They often caught up with him to talk directly to him, because they knew they could.

“Our openness is our greatest weapon in fighting terrorism.” America will remain an open welcome place. Even with the anti-American attitudes we’re still the trusted source for diplomacy. We’ll be fine, as long as we remain open, follow the constitution, and believe in ourselves.

“Leadership is about solving problems. The world brings their problems to America.” He told the inside story about how he resolved the July 2002 island conflict between Morocco and Spain – all from his home office over a single weekend. His incentive for solving it so quickly…his grandkids were coming over to swim. (Read the CNN article Spain, Morocco defuse islet row).

To demonstrate effective mentoring he told the story about the time he lost his pistol. This story is also told in his autobiography “My American Journey” and can be found online by reading Excerpts from My American Journey on the 3rd Armored Div. History website.

The General gave us one last laugh and made his exit as if he were George Costanza, “Alright! That’s it for me. Goodnight everybody.”

I had personally hoped he would talk more about the similarities and differences between leading in government and leading in the corporate world. But I was not disappointed in the least. General Powell is revered by many including the Six Sigma community – from standing ovation to standing ovation Powell filled our hearts and minds with the power to lead. I was even lucky enough met him, shake his hand and get a picture. It was humbling to shake the hand of a man who has spent his life serving and protecting the United States of America and who has no doubt shaken the hands of many of the leaders of the nations of the world.

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