Colin Powell’s 4 Rules For Getting To The Point
December 18, 2012 1 Comment
In line with yesterday’s post about handling problems as a leader, I thought it appropriate to share how Colin Powell instructed his staff to bring him problems. Being a retired four-star general in the United States Army, and having served as the 65th U.S. Secretary of State (under President George W. Bush) from 2001 to 2005, Mr. Powell definitely knows a thing or two about running organizations at scale and getting the best from those around you.
In his new book “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership“, Colin shares some simple rules for getting to the point when raising a problem:
- First, tell me what you know. He advises asking your team to give you the facts of the situation, as objectively as possible. He doesn’t want personal interpretation. He’ll often probe to see how the facts were obtained to ensure that the data are as accurate as possible.
- Second, tell me what you don’t know. As important as communicating the known facts, Colin advises asking for clarity around what is unknown. If you have the right people in the right positions, they’ll most likely realize what they don’t know. Colin feels that getting people to articulate these things is as important as getting the facts. The unknowns give way to follow-up actions to obtain that information (if possible).
- Then, tell me what you think. This is where the person is asked to add their interpretation of the data, provide insight based on experience, and/or anything else they think is relevant given the situation. This is where he allows people to use the facts to build an argument, or offer an opinion.
- And remember: Always distinguish one from the other. Colin suggests that it is imperative to ensure that you are clear in asking that people provide you information and clearly distinguish which type of information they’re giving. If they’re telling you what they think, don’t allow them to misconstrue that as a representation of the facts.
I think #4, while subtle, is brilliant and essential. Especially when situations are stressful, I notice that people tend to add color to a situation by incorporating their personal perspectives, which in some cases is wrong or biased. I know I do the same and wrestle with trying to keep these things separate in my own head; perhaps it is human nature to immediately draw conclusions (did I just jump to a conclusion there?).
What do you think of Colin Powell’s 4 Rules? Do you think they are helpful in communicating information and getting to the point?