Colin Powell’s Political and Military Leadership


Colin Powell is considered to be one of the world’s most impactful leaders. He worked with presidents from both sides of the divide to ensure the nation progressed. The General was born in Harlem in 1937 to Jamaican immigrant parents who placed emphasis on the need for personal achievement and education (Academy of Achievement, 2021). Despite his humble beginnings, Powell was instrumental in driving the American military victory in the Persian Gulf War as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Mendler, 2018). His position as secretary of state facilitated the revolution of America’s foreign policy. He even crossed party lines to endorse Barack Obama for president, demonstrating his desire for effective leadership. Colin Powell’s venerable career, which featured effective leadership, astute military tactics, and self-sacrifice, was immensely influenced by maverick leaders who prepared him for life in a deeply polarized contemporary government.

Leadership Qualities and Personal Traits

Embracing Ideological Flexibility

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for president has been viewed by many as controversial in view of the fact that Powell was a high-ranking member of the Republican Party. It is also worth noting that in George Bush’s second administration, Powell served as secretary of state in an environment charged with clashing political views (Mendler, 2018). The aforementioned scenarios demonstrated a leader’s ability to build productive work relationships regardless of differences in political or philosophical ideologies. Powel’s leadership was further demonstrated when he disagreed with President Clinton over the decision to allow gay men and women to be enrolled in the nation’s military (Academy of Achievement, 2021). It is vital to note that despite holding a different view, he accepted a compromise on the matter and continued working in the administration. It is critical to avoid ideological rigidity when cooperation is required to achieve set goals and objectives.

Powel was most assuredly influenced by President Kennedy while at the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. Having graduated at the top of his class in 1958 with the rank of cadet colonel, Powel was among the 16,000 military advisors deployed to South Vietnam by President Kennedy in 1962 (Academy of Achievement, 2021). It is important to note that President Kennedy demonstrated the importance of maintaining flexibility as a leader. He seldom got stuck in a single position and was always ready to change his mind depending on the context and the prevailing conditions. Powel is renowned for considering all available options before making a decision. He also embraced divergent personalities in his quest to get the right answers, much like Kennedy did when handling the challenges his administration faced.

Accepting Cultural Differences

Powel’s upbringing in a culturally diverse community facilitated the development of his ability to entertain differing ideologies. He expertly embraced all the people around him regardless of differences in culture. It is vital to note that he regularly attributes his success to early experiences growing up in a community that encouraged deep and meaningful connections with people from varied backgrounds. Powel grew to view the presence of different perspectives as a strength rather than a liability. It is vital to note that in 1986, Powell was deployed to work as a commander of the Fifth Corps in Frankfurt, Germany, where he excelled as a result of his ability to embrace different cultures (Academy of Achievement, 2021). He was later recalled to serve in Washington as Frank Carlucci’s deputy, and he succeeded as the first African-American National Security Advisor (Academy of Achievement, 2021). His cultural background did not stop him from effectively coordinating policy and technical staff during his time at the White House.

Colin Powell’s acceptance of all cultures is reminiscent of Martin Luther King Junior’s determination to spread equality across America. The Civil Rights Movement is an essential part of America’s history. It advocated for the right of all people to access all the opportunities America had to offer. Its leader was a charismatic individual who accepted people from every cultural and religious background. It is evident that King’s desire for a unified country was reflected in Powel’s determination to protect all Americans and work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an essential skill that leaders must possess if they are to lead teams to success. In 2001, as a newly appointed Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Powell earned praise as an efficient administrator who maintained cordial relations with other nations (Academy of Achievement, 2021). After the September 11 attacks against the United States, he took a leading role in encouraging America’s allies to join forces and take military action against Afghanistan. Despite the fact that reports indicated that he had misgivings about the planned invasion of Iraq, he proceeded to the Security Council at the United Nations, where he provided evidence indicating that Saddam Hussein was engaging in a weapons development program (Academy of Achievement, 2021). It is vital to note that some of the evidence he presented was discredited after no weapons development program was found in Iraq. He subsequently stepped down as Secretary of State, indicating the importance of emotional intelligence.

Powell’s emotional intelligence stemmed from his encounters and interactions with President Ronald Reagan. Reagan is renowned for taking strategic steps in the development of personal relationships with the world’s leaders. This was critical in the management of the challenges associated with foreign policy and in the creation of a unified front against the nation’s enemies. President Reagan worked to form alliances and was a firm believer in using dialogue to resolve conflict. His interactions with the Soviet Union’s General Secretary were an indication of what could be achieved if discussions were given a chance. It is vital to note that Powell would later apply the lessons he learned while working as Frank Carlucci’s assistant in the Defense Department under President Reagan (Academy of Achievement, 2021). Powell’s emotional intelligence allowed him to work with individuals who had different ideologies and admit mistakes when mistakes were made.

Military Strategy

Powel was a firm believer in the idea that while an army focuses on preparations for war, the nation’s leaders must have a vested interest in maintaining peace and must be extremely cautious when choosing to use force. In his memoir, My American Journey, Powell details a conversation he had with Madeleine Albright, who at the time was America’s ambassador to the United Nations during a brief on the Bosnian conflict (Shields, 2017). While Madeleine advocated for the deployment of troops to the war-torn region, Powel expressed reservations noting that his troops were not toys to be deployed at will but human beings who would be sent to resolve conflicts only when absolutely necessary. The Powell Doctrine advocated for the exhaustion of all available means before resorting to war. General Powell was known for considering all available options before sending men into armed conflict. He was not fond of being impulsive or making important decisions before taking the time to adequately understand the context within which specific events occurred.

Powell’s military strategies were a result of early exposure to the inner workings of the United States government. After completing his MBA at George Washington University, he won a White House Fellowship. He worked in the Office of Management and Budget in President Nixon’s administration. It is also worth noting that after joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he became his unit’s commander. He was then appointed as a second lieutenant in the United States military (Academy of Achievement, 2021). For his achievement as a military officer, Powel has been awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In addition, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for saving his comrades from a helicopter crash during his second tour of duty in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969 (Academy of Achievement, 2021). Powel’s achievements as a military strategist facilitated his ascent into the United States government.

Powel’s biggest Military influence was Ronald Reagan, whose handling of a variety of international crises prevented the needless loss of life. The president’s Strategic Defense Initiative played a critical role in achieving victory over the Soviet Union without the unnecessary loss of life. His undeterred focus on the revival of American strength and values was emulated by Powell as he represented American interests as Secretary of State.


Contemporary leaders embrace a set of qualities and behaviors that past maverick leaders used to achieve success. Colin Powel is a contemporary leader who emulated various military, leadership, and personal traits from influential individuals who came before him. Powell’s ideological flexibility was significantly influenced by President Kennedy, while his emotional intelligence was developed by lessons from President Ronald Regan. Powell’s ability to accept cultural differences is attributed to his upbringing and influences from Martin Luther King. His military strategies resulted from early exposure to the government’s inner workings, military deployment, and influence from President Ronald Reagan. Colin Powell’s venerable career, which featured the application of effective leadership and military strategies, was significantly influenced by maverick leaders who prepared him for the transformative roles he played as an influential official in the United States government.


Academy of Achievement. (2021). General Colin L. Powell, USA.

Mendler, A. (2018). What leaders can learn from Colin Powell. Forbes.

Shields, P. (2017). Limits of negative peace, faces of positive peace. Parameters, 47(3), 5–12.

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