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Colin Powell’s Rules and Military Libraries

Sometimes small things make big impressions. About three years ago when I started my job at the National Defense University I picked up a bookmark printed with Powell’s Rules, 13 short leadership phrases written by Colin Powell. I taped it above my desk and set about trying to learn my new job.

Powell, a 1976 NDU graduate, is somewhat of a rockstar around here. His papers and artifacts from his career are housed in the library’s special collections and everywhere you go around campus you’re likely to see some reminder of him and his legacy. He developed his rules over the course of his military career but in his 2012 book It worked for me: in life and leadership he explains them in more detail. 

Sometimes when I’m looking for inspiration or I’m wondering how to approach something on my plate, I’ll glance up and review Powell’s Rules. They never get old and the more times I read them the more I see how these rules can apply to day-to-day life in the military library world.

Powell’s Rules:

1.  It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2.  Get mad, then get over it.
3.  Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4.  It can be done!
5.  Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6.  Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7.  You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
8.  Check small things.
9.  Share credit.
10.  Remain calm. Be kind.
11.  Have a vision. Be demanding.
12.  Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13.  Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.(in the military, one always looks for ways to increase or multiply your forces.)

Given the current state of budget cuts, technology hurdles, furloughs, staff shortages and hiring freezes, it certainly can’t hurt to take some of Powell’s Rules to heart and put them into practice whenever possible.

– Mike McNulty is the collection development librarian at the National Defense University Library in Washington, DC.

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