159+ Best Colin Powell Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Colin Luther Powell is an American politician and retired four-star general in the United States Army. Powell was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, the first black person to serve in that position. Inspirational Colin Powell quotes on decision making, strategy, loyalty, leadership, and communication will motivate you to work hard for your dreams.

If you’re searching for life quotes and sayings that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of John Mccain quotes, powerful George S. Patton quotes, and Robert E. Lee quotes.

Most Famous Colin Powell Quotes

Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence. – Colin Powell

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. – Colin Powell

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. – Colin Powell

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. – Colin Powell

Respect for leaders by followers can’t be mandated; it must be earned. It has to be given to leaders by their followers. – Colin Powell

Always be looking for that which you do well and that which you love doing, and when you find those two things together — man, you got it. – Colin Powell

The freedom to do your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best. – Colin Powell

Don’t just count your days, make your days count. – Colin Powell

Maybe we don’t put our young people in situations often enough where they’re allowed to fail. When you fail you gain experience, and with enough experience, you don’t fail as often. – Colin Powell

Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists. And the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that’s despicable. – Colin Powell

Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. – Colin Powell

Be careful what you choose: You may get it. – Colin Powell

If a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity, then there will be no passion and intensity within the organization and they’ll start to fall down and get depressed. – Colin Powell

Have a vision; but it’s not enough to have a vision, you have to communicate that vision to others. You have to communicate it to people who work with you and for you. You have to communicate it to the world leaders with whom you come in touch. – Colin Powell

Every organization should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has no clothes. – Colin Powell

Each of us must work to become a hardheaded realist, or else we risk wasting our time and energy on pursuing impossible dreams. Yet constant naysayers pursue no less impossible dreams. Their fear and cynicism move nothing forward. They kill progress. How many cynics-built empires, great cities, or powerful corporations? – Colin Powell

Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them. – Colin Powell

I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude. – Colin Powell

Treat people kindly. When you are kind to somebody and I don’t mean necessarilybuddy-buddy, just show kindness and consideration. Show that people are worthy, and you respect them and you are glad they’re with you. – Colin Powell

In the army we are drilled into execution and then supervision, to make sure everything goes the way you planned it. But there is another thing that we do in the military, that I think perhaps isn’t done enough in corporate life: As soon as you have made that decision, you start on the contingency planning. Because there is, as we like to say, a thinking, breathing enemy out there, who is not going to let you do just what you want. – Colin Powell

Poverty arises and persists where corruption is endemic and enterprise is stifled, where basic fairness provided by the rule of law is absent. In such circumstances, poverty is an assault against human dignity, and in that assault lies the natural seed of human anger – Colin Powell

If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool. – Colin Powell

Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. – Colin Powell

The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise. – Colin Powell

First you train the followers to accomplish the mission. Second, you resource them: Make sure that they have the tools to do the job. Third, you reward them: You give them medals or bonuses. – Colin Powell

Good leaders must know how to reward those who succeed and know when to retrain, move, or fire ineffective staff. – Colin Powell

Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude. – Colin Powell

What could be more important than equipping the next generation with the character and competence they need to become successful. – Colin Powell

When you wrestle with a pig, he has fun, and you just end up dirty. – Colin Powell

Being in charge sometimes means making people mad. Some days you have to overrule even the best advice, because you think it is not right. – Colin Powell

Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself. – Colin Powell

A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses. – Colin Powell

The essence of leadership is building bonds of trust in your organization. – Colin Powell

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible. – Colin Powell

Being kind doesn’t mean being soft or a wuss. Kindness is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of confidence. If you have developed a reputation for kindness and consideration, then even the most unpleasant decisions will go down easier because everyone will understand why you are doing what you are doing. They will realize that your decision must be necessary, and is not arbitrary or without empathy. As the old saying puts it, ‘To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.’ – Colin Powell

Always do your best. Somebody is watching you. – Colin Powell

We have to start thinking of America as a family. We have to stop screeching screeching at each other, stop hurting each other, and instead start caring for, sacrificing for and sharing with each other … We cannot move forward if cynics and critics swoop down and pick apart anything that goes wrong, to a point where we lose sight of what is right, decent and uniquely good about America. – Colin Powell

Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds. – Colin Powell

Don’t let your ego get too close to your position, so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn’t go with it. – Colin Powell

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. – Colin Powell

You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness, and a kind word. Everyone of our employees is an essential employee. Every one of them wants to be viewed that way. And if you treat them that way, they will view you that way. They will not let you down or let you fail. They will accomplish whatever you have put in front of them. – Colin Powell

You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. – Colin Powell

Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror. – Colin Powell

One of the greatest talents of all is the talent to recognize and to develop talent in others. – Colin Powell

Trust is the essence of Leadership. – Colin Powell

As a leader you set the tone for your entire team. Communicate your vision. – Colin Powell

All children need a laptop. Not a computer, but a human laptop. Moms, Dads, Grannies and Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles – someone to hold them, read to them, teach them. Loved ones who will embrace them and pass on the experience, rituals and knowledge of a hundred previous generations. Loved ones who will pass to the next generation their expectations of them, their hopes, and their dreams. – Colin Powell

Get mad, then get over it. – Colin Powell

Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details, every day. – Colin Powell

You know you’re a good leader when people follow you out of curiosity. – Colin Powell

Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant. – Colin Powell

Give me the right people and I don’t much care what organization you give me. Good things will happen. Give me the wrong people and it doesn’t matter what you do with the organization. Bad things will happen. – Colin Powell

The best way to create a winning team is to train them, give them everything they need to get the job done and second, make sure they know what the job is and what the job will be. So, you connect strategy to resources. – Colin Powell

Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people centered. – Colin Powell

When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this state, stimulates me. But once a decision is made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own. – Colin Powell

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work. – Colin Powell

Pissing people off doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things but doing the right things will almost inevitably piss people off. – Colin Powell

Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how. Not everyone has a right to speak into your life. You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere. – Colin Powell

Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire every follower at every level to internalize their purpose, and to understand that their purpose goes far beyond the mere details of their job. When everyone is united in purpose, a positive purpose that serves not only the organization but also, hopefully, the world beyond it, you have a winning team. – Colin Powell

The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. – Colin Powell

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude. – Colin Powell

None of us can change our yesterdays but all of us can change our tomorrows. – Colin Powell

Every organization needs to be introspective, transparent, and honest with itself. This only works if everyone is unified on the goals and purposes of the organization and there is trust within the team. High-performing, successful organizations build cultures of introspection and trust and never lose sight of their purpose. – Colin Powell

The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow. – Colin Powell

Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return. – Colin Powell

Don’t just show kindness in passing or to be courteous. Show it in depth, show it with passion, and expect nothing in return. Kindness is not just about being nice; it’s about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect. – Colin Powell

Whenever you start-give it your best. The opportunities are there to be anything you want to be. But wanting to be someone isn’t enough; dreaming about it isn’t enough; thinking about it isn’t enough. You’ve got to study for it, work for it, fight for it with all your heart and soul, because nobody is going to hand it to you. – Colin Powell

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. – Colin Powell

Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know. – Colin Powell

Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard. – Colin Powell

Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done. – Colin Powell

Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world. – Colin Powell

Effective leaders are made, not born. They learn from trial and error, and from experience. – Colin Powell

Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off. – Colin Powell

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand. – Colin Powell

Many interviewers when they come to talk to me, think they’re being progressive by not mentioning in their stories any longer that I’m black. I tell them, ‘Don’t stop now. If I shot somebody, you’d mention it.’ – Colin Powell

Some of the generals are saying, ‘We’re making progress. We are clearing an area.’ But you really don’t defeat the Taliban by clearing an area. They move. – Colin Powell

Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission. – Colin Powell

But just as they did in Philadelphia when they were writing the constitution, sooner or later, you’ve got to compromise. You’ve got to start making the compromises that arrive at a consensus and move the country forward. – Colin Powell

When you decide to get involved in a military operation in a place like Syria, you’ve got to be prepared, as we learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, to become the government, and I’m not sure any country, either the United States or I don’t hear of anyone else, who’s willing to take on that responsibility. – Colin Powell

It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. – Colin Powell

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. – Colin Powell

We got rid of a terrible dictator. We gave the Iraqi people an opportunity for a new life under a representative form of government. – Colin Powell

I was born in Harlem, raised in the South Bronx, went to public school, got out of public college, went into the Army, and then I just stuck with it. – Colin Powell

Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it, spend time with your families. – Colin Powell

The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort. – Colin Powell

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

Giving back involves a certain amount of giving up. – Colin Powell

The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny. – Colin Powell

In other words, don’t expect to always be great. Disappointments, failures and setbacks are a normal part of the lifecycle of a unit or a company and what the leader has to do is constantly be up and say ‘we have a problem, let’s go and get it’. – Colin Powell

You don’t know what you can get away with until you try. – Colin Powell

I try to be the same person I was yesterday. – Colin Powell

In terms of the legal matter of creating a contract between two people that’s called marriage, and allowing them to live together with the protection of law, it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country. – Colin Powell

I always like to take my time and examine the two candidates, see not only the two candidates but the policies they will bring in, the people they will bring in, who they might appoint to the Supreme Court, and look at the whole range of issues before making a decision. – Colin Powell

Politics is not bean bags. It’s serious, tough stuff. – Colin Powell

We need to understand that we as citizens and as a government in any community throughout this country have no more important obligation than to educate those who are going to replace us. – Colin Powell

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life giving speeches. – Colin Powell

You can’t just have slogans; you can’t just have catchy phrases. You have to have an agenda. And I think what the Republican Party has to do, if it’s going to incorporate the tea party efforts in it, is to come up with an agenda that the American people can see, touch, and actually believe in, and something they believe in. – Colin Powell

We all hoped in 2001 that we could put in place an Afghan government under President Karzai that would be able to control the country, make sure al-Qaeda didn’t come back, and make sure the Taliban wasn’t resurging. It didn’t work out. – Colin Powell

It’s a disgrace that we have millions of people who are uninsured. – Colin Powell

My own experience is use the tools that are out there. Use the digital world. But never lose sight of the need to reach out and talk to other people who don’t share your view. Listen to them and see if you can find a way to compromise. – Colin Powell

Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it. – Colin Powell

Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing. – Colin Powell

Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age. – Colin Powell

Wouldn’t it be great if we could look forward to a whole world in which no child will be left behind? – Colin Powell

War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support. – Colin Powell

It’s not just a matter of whether you support Obama or Romney. It’s who they have coming with them. I always keep my powder dry, as they say in the military. – Colin Powell

It’s nice to say let’s be bipartisan. But we’re a partisan nation. We were raised as a partisan nation. – Colin Powell

You should see what our Founding Fathers used to say to each other and in the early part of our nation. But what they were able to do, especially in Philadelphia in 1787, four months, they argued about what a House should be, what a Senate should be, the power of the president, the Congress, the Supreme Court. And they had to deal with slavery. – Colin Powell

Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard. – Colin Powell

So, like any football or basketball coach, you always always believe you’re going to win. – Colin Powell

The United States is not stingy. We are the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world. – Colin Powell

The only bipartisanship you ever see is when they finally sign a bill and everybody says, ‘Gee, isn’t that wonderful?’ – Colin Powell

Economy’s got to get moving, we’ve got to get the unemployment rate down. That may be the defining issue of the campaign. – Colin Powell

There are lots of countries that are having these kinds of internal civil wars in other parts of the world and nobody is talking about intervening. – Colin Powell

I don’t know that there is much the United States can do except work with the international community. – Colin Powell

I don’t think we handled the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad as well as we might have. But that’s now history. – Colin Powell

I respect the fact that many denominations have different points of view with respect to gay marriage and they can hold that in the sanctity in the place of their religion and not bless them or solemnize them. – Colin Powell

Too often we act – ask our schools to be truant officers, our teachers to be truant officers, because we’re giving them children who have, you know, they’re not ready to learn. And if they’re not ready to learn by the third grade, they know they’re behind. – Colin Powell

Today I can declare my hope and declare it from the bottom of my heart that we will eventually see the time when that number of nuclear weapons is down to zero and the world is a much better place. – Colin Powell

What you’re seeing with Occupy Wall Street and the others are people who are unhappy and they’re directing their unhappiness now toward Wall Street and toward those they think are doing too well in our society. – Colin Powell

Foe means enemy. Now, will we have differences of opinion with the Russians? Yes. Will they get mad at us from time to time, and we get mad at them? That’s part of the normal diplomatic relations. – Colin Powell

I think the Iranians are clearly determined to have a nuclear program. And we have to assume that with a nuclear program they have the capability and the will to create a nuclear weapon. – Colin Powell

It was the Congress that imposed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it was certainly my position, my recommendation to get us out of an even worse outcome that could have occurred. – Colin Powell

It isn’t enough just to scream at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. We need our political system to start reflect this anger back into, ‘How do we fix it? How do we get the economy going again?’ – Colin Powell

Look at the world. There is no pure competitor to the United States of America. – Colin Powell

I consider myself a moderate Republican. I have very, very moderate social views, and I’m pretty strong on, on defense matters. – Colin Powell

The purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced – the just demands of peace and security will be met – or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power. – Colin Powell

We strongly oppose it, … It will cause us international difficulties, and it opens up other opportunities for others to try to seek similar relief. – Colin Powell

We can seldom get our children to do what we tell them, but they almost never fail to imitate us.

We stand ready to help, but that help can only come when North Korea has abandoned its programs to achieve a nuclear weapons capability, something that the international community thought it had done years ago, – Colin Powell

We didn’t deal with Yasser Arafat when we were putting the road map together, and so his comments don’t mean a whole lot to me. – Colin Powell

Unless North Korea ends its program, it cannot expect the benefits of relations with the outside world. – Colin Powell

We have no intention of invading North Korea or taking hostile action against North Korea, – Colin Powell

The regime only allows interviews with inspectors in the presence of an Iraqi official, a minder, … The official Iraqi organization charged with facilitating inspections announced, announced publicly and announced ominously that, ‘Nobody is ready to leave Iraq to be interviewed.’ – Colin Powell

Ways to communicate with the people of Iran to convince them that the policies their leaders have been following are inappropriate. – Colin Powell

In other words, don’t expect to always be great. Disappointments, failures and setbacks are a normal part of the lifecycle of a unit or a company and what the leader has to do is constantly be up and say ‘we have a problem, let’s go and get it’. – Colin Powell

Mr. Arafat has not been playing a helpful role, … And if he wanted to play a helpful role, he would be supporting Prime Minister Abbas, not frustrating his efforts. – Colin Powell

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. – Colin Powell

China has a role to play and I hope China will play that role, – Colin Powell

Diplomacy is listening to what the other guy needs. Preserving your own position, but listening to the other guy. You have to develop relationships with other people so when the tough times come, you can work together. – Colin Powell

has the interest of the Haitian people at heart. – Colin Powell

I think we have stabilized things right now to the point where we can continue working the diplomatic and political track and persuade everyone that is the direction we should continue to move. – Colin Powell

It is not up to Iraq to dictate the conditions to the United Nations, but for the United Nations to dictate the conditions to Iraq, … If the United Nations does not act, then the United States, joined by other willing nations, must act. – Colin Powell

Laurence Foley had devoted his own life to U.S. government service and to improving the lives of others through his work with the Agency for International Development, … He will be deeply missed. – Colin Powell

The American people to this point have taken it in stride, … And I don’t think they are upset yet to a point where it is troubling to the nation. – Colin Powell

The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny. Colin Powell

Whether it should or should not have been in the speech is something we can certainly discuss and debate, – Colin Powell

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. – Colin Powell

We are committed to ensuring that as we review our force posture in the Balkans, we do so with full consultation with our NATO allies … and in the process of doing so, make sure that we have the right mixture and balance of forces at all times. – Colin Powell

What we would be committed to would be a representative government where all the Iraqi people decide who should lead their nation, and lead it in a way that keeps it together as a single nation and where all parts of the nation – Shia, Sunni and Kurds – are able to live free and in peace and believe that their interests are represented by the government. – Colin Powell

I would not presume from this distance, nor would America presume to say who should be the leader of the Iraqi nation. – Colin Powell

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. – Colin Powell

It remains our policy to change the regime until such time as the regime changes itself. So far, we cannot be sure that he is cooperating or he [Saddam Hussein] is acting in a way that could give us comfort, or should give the international community comfort, that he is giving up his weapons of mass destruction. He continues to give us statements that suggest he is not in possession of weapons of mass destruction when we know he is. – Colin Powell

Just hit my 75th birthday, I’m feeling great! – Colin Powell

The most effective means of ensuring the government’s accountability to the people is an aggressive, free, challenging, untrusting press. – Colin Powell

It is the job of leaders to eliminate uncertainty. – Colin Powell

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

Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection. – Colin Powell

No one has done more to prevent conflict – no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause for Peace – than you, America’s proud missile submarine family. You stand tall among our heroes of the Cold War. – Colin Powell

Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al Qaeda together – Colin Powell

The Court is perhaps one of the last citadels of jealously preserved individualism. For the most part, we function as nine, small independent law firms. – Colin Powell

The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise. – Colin Powell

Children need to get a high-quality education, avoid violence and the criminal-justice system, and gain jobs. But they deserve more. We want them to learn not only reading and math but fairness, caring, self-respect, family commitment, and civic duty. – Colin Powell

I am confident that we will find evidence that makes it clear he had weapons of mass destruction. – Colin Powell

The long bitter years of the Cold War are over. America and her allies have won; totally, decisively, and overwhelmingly…. So thank you SAC. Job well done. Enjoy your retirement. – Colin Powell

Policies that emanate from ivory towers often have an adverse impact on the people out in the field who are fighting the wars or bringing in the revenues. – Colin Powell

My own experience is use the tools that are out there. Use the digital world. But never lose sight of the need to reach out and talk to other people who don’t share your view. Listen to them and see if you can find a way to compromise. – Colin Powell

A sense of shame is not a bad moral compass. – Colin Powell