Find your leadership path

Lt.Col. Merrell D. Mobley, 50th Force Support Squadron commander

Lt.Col. Merrell D. Mobley, 50th Force Support Squadron commander


Are leaders born or made?  The “born leadership” versus “learned leadership” debate is frequently discussed in military classrooms.  Advocates of each side usually arrive at the consensus that leadership skills are influenced by one’s innate abilities as well as environmental factors.  Leading in any capacity can be a very complex undertaking and inherited abilities alone simply are not enough to carry the day.  Successful leaders continually hone their skills through experience and learn valuable lessons by reading, listening, and observing effective and ineffective leadership examples.  Improving one’s leadership skill is a process and there is an abundance of material on the subject.


 A few months ago, a newfound mentor gave me yet another leadership book to read.  The book title and author piqued my interest, “It Worked for Me in Life and Leadership,” written by Gen. Colin Powell.  Each of us will travel through our own pat leadership development paths and it is your choice to discern what works best for you and the people you will lead.


A fundamental part of the book is Powell’s core belief in “Thirteen Rules.” The rules form the foundation of many of his presentations on leadership.  Gathered along his personal leadership pathway, Powell’s rules are a direct result of a lifetime of experiences and lessons learned as he ascended to the highest echelon of military and civilian service as both a four-star general and Secretary of State among other significant positions during four presidential administrations.  You are probably asking yourself an understandable question at this point:  “What are the rules?!” 


Well, the rules are as follows:

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

2. Get mad, then get over it.

3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

4. It can be done.

5. Be careful what you choose: you may get it.

6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

7. You can’t make someone else’s choices.  You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.

8. Check small things.

9. Share credit.

10. Remain calm.  Be kind.

11. Have a vision.  Be demanding.

12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.

13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.


Powell thoroughly elaborates on his “rules” using candid examples from his life and times; much more eloquently than I could ever hope to achieve in this commentary, so pick up the book for the unabridged version.  Hopefully, you can relate some of these “rules” to your own leadership style; the others are merely presented for your reflection and potential future incorporation as warranted. 


The point is we all have our own leadership paths to travel.  Your inherited ability, along with experienced demonstrations of good and bad leadership which help shape the leader you are destined to become in the future. Powell carved out an amazingly distinguished career as leader in both military and civilian sectors through his innate ability and sage wisdom gained from experience.  He outlined a list of principles that (worked for him in life and leadership). Use your inborn ability coupled with your experiences, which will hopefully include reading this or other such books, to discern for yourself what works for you and the people you lead.