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Why Emotionally Intelligent People Still Follow Colin Powell’s 13 Rules for Leaders

A compelling and complicated legacy, plus emotionally intelligent leadership that works


If you served in the U.S. military during the 1990s and early 2000s, I’ll bet that at some point, somebody introduced you to General Colin Powell’s 13 rules of effective leadership.

Powell, who died Monday at age 84, had a compelling and complicated legacy: first Black officer to be a four-star general commanding troops, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and eventually Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s first term.

For many, of course, his biggest legacy was the way he pushed inaccurate intelligence in support of the invasion of Iraq.

For others, however, he’s likely to be remembered as much for his oft-repeated 13 rules as for his accomplishments and controversies. As I read through them upon learning of his death, I came to the realization that each rule succeeds because each is about separating actions from emotions, a key aspect of emotional intelligence.

Here are the 13 rules, which Powell first compiled for a magazine profile in 1989, and later revisited in print many times. If you find this compelling, I hope you’ll also download my free e-book on the subject: Improving Emotional Intelligence 2021.

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