Gen. Colin Powell died Monday at 84 from complications related to COVID-19, his family announced.
In addition to his groundbreaking service as both the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black secretary of state, Powell also distinguished himself for his many aphorisms.
With his sayings, many of which were laid out in his 2012 memoir, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” Powell stressed the importance of humility, perseverance and minding “the little matters.”
On failure and humility
Powell reportedly warned President George W. Bush in the summer of 2002, while the administration was considering the invasion of Iraq, that if he invaded, “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.”
According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s book “Plan of Attack,” both Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage referred to this principle as the Pottery Barn rule, by which they meant, “You break it, you own it.”
In addition to warning against failures and setbacks, Powell also opined on the important role they can play.
“In other words, don’t expect to always be great,” he wrote. “Disappointments, failures and setbacks are a normal part of the lifecycle of a unit or a company, and what the leader has to do is constantly be up and say, ‘We have a problem, let’s go and get it.'”
“I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude,” he elsewhere observed.
Powell also warned against the temptations posed by the trappings of power and success, writing, “Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.”
“There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Powell said.
On perseverance and optimism
“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence,” Powell wrote.
Powell also stressed the importance of optimism and never looking back, writing, “Always focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror.”
“If you believe and have prepared your followers, the follower will believe,” he advised leaders, which he said was one of the most profound lessons he learned during his military career.
“Having greater communication and command and control over your forces than your enemy has over his is a force multiplier,” he wrote.
On experts and little things
Powell also emphasized the importance of paying attention to the little things in life. “Never neglect details,” he said.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters,” he also wrote. “Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”
Powell also warned against trusting so-called experts.
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“Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites,” he said. “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,” the general warned.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.