What Colin Powell Learned From Iraq

The former top soldier and diplomat also discusses Iran, Syria, and leadership secrets of Ronald Reagan.

By + More

What was the difference between being a top soldier and a top diplomat?

The basic principles of leadership and management are the same: Have a common purpose, get everybody aligned in that purpose, treat your people well, give them the equipment and the support they need to get the job done. Recognize those who do well, deal with those that are not doing well. And above all, keep inspiring the people who work for you. And if you do that and take care of them, they'll take care of you.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

What's next for you?

I never know. I have a nice life now. I'm at an age where I'm not looking for full time work. I will continue to work on the youth programs that I'm so committed to. America's Promise Alliance that I founded, and my wife now runs, works to make more and more resources available to our young children who are in need. More mentors, more Boys & Girls Clubs, more Big Brothers and Big Sisters, more safe places for kids to learn and grow. Work on getting a healthy start for every child, to adequate healthcare, insure our children for health. Too many kids are not finishing high school. And we focus on service. "Kindness Works" is a good chapter for that one.

Would you steer a young person towards the military or diplomacy?

I would steer them to a career that appeals to them. Every speech I give to high school or college graduates always sort of ends with, "Find out that which you do well and that you love doing. And make that your course of action in life." For me it was the military shortly after I entered college. I didn't have that much interest in anything else in college but suddenly I saw these cadets and I said, "I want do that." And I loved doing it and I did it for 35 years. You can't have somebody else impose upon you or tell you what you should do with your life, but listen to others, watch others, and see what really turns you on. But always as an option, look at public service. Above all in your life, no matter what you do, find a way to serve the society that is serving you.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Should There Be an International Treaty on Cyberwarfare?
  • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Reminisce About Watergate
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on the iPad.