Management Lessons Inspire Social Impact

Authentic Leadership Fosters a Culture of Positive Change
Jun 10, 2015 1:25 PM ET

The New Global Citizen

“It really wasn’t me- all credit goes to my great team.” How often have we heard that line from a leader, or used it ourselves? We admire that manager’s humility and assume anyone using that approach must be great to work for. Right?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell doesn’t think so. He used to tell his senior staff at the State Department, “If your team did all the work, then why do I need you?” He would say this with a tinge of humor, but his point was clear: leaders need to lead, and their contributions ought to amount to more than just the sum of a team of followers, even if that team is high-performing.

Powell brought the U.S. Army culture—where he served for 46 years, ultimately as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—with him to the State Department. He realized that one of the most challenging aspects of his new role would be to reshape the culture of the department to serve his vision for American policy. And he would have to dig in and take the lead, not simply rely on those he had assembled around him. Changing the culture of an organization may be the toughest assignment any leader will confront.

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