Top 10 Colin Powell Quotes

Guest Post by Larry Kenny

Retired four-star general in the U.S. Army, former Secretary of State, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former National Security Advisor, Colin Powell is one of the most in-demand speakers in the world. His adages are heeded and his advice taken to heart by conservatives and liberals alike. Among the array of sayings and short quotations attributed to Powell, ten of the most incisive and insightful are the following, paired with brief commentary on each:

# 10 “Get mad, then get over it.”

Those who know Powell say this attitude is what got him to the top. He does not hold grudges, just gets the job done and moves on to the next challenge.

# 9 “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

This single sentence is the general’s closest approach to New Age philosophy, with a twist of Dale Carnegie thrown in for good measure. Seriously, though, how could anyone have fought the battles Powell has fought and done so without a dynamically positive attitude?

# 8 “Bad news isn’t wine.  It doesn’t improve with age.”

This aphorism could work as part two of the previous quote about optimism. Powell is old enough to remember the classic Bing Crosby song about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. (“And don’t mess with Mister In-between,” so the lyrics went).

# 7 “Giving back involves a certain amount of giving up.”

One has to believe that this statement is a conclusion reached by the philosopher-general in retirement, as he considers the wide span of his life’s work.

# 6 “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.”

One of Powell’s most repeated quotes, this is his belief system, in a nutshell, a restatement of similar “hang in there” adages. Against the backdrop of his unique life, however, it has almost become his signature phrase.

# 5 “It’s nice to say let’s be bipartisan. But we’re a partisan nation. We were raised as a partisan nation.”

Here is Powell the realist, showing the political acumen that so many military greats, like MacArthur and Pershing, sadly lacked.

# 4 “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

This is Powellese for, “It looked good on paper, but we’re not on the paper anymore!”

# 3 “Experts often possess more data than judgment.”

The practical, field-tested general knows malarkey when he smells it, and invariably relies on wisdom derived from real-world experience.

# 2 “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life giving speeches.”

Fortunately, General Powell will not fade away, but will always be engaged in public policy and current affairs.

# 1 “Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.”

This statement could be Colin Powell’s epitaph. It is a perfect molecule of his attitude toward practicality.

Final Thoughts

For more about one of America’s most famous statesmen, the definitive biography of Powell is entitled, “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell,” by Karen DeYoung. It is available at bookstores worldwide.

What are your favorite Colin Powell quotes? Just leave your comments below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “Top 10 Colin Powell Quotes”

  1. He didn’t say this but perhaps he should: A little man with a lot of power can destroy the world; but a big man with a little power can move mountains. Colin Powell is a big man in my book. He is like the rebar core strength in a concrete building – strong, understated, and just makes sense. If he ran for president he’d have my vote in a nano-second.

  2. “Get mad, then get over it” is a great way of putting it! Colin Powell is a great leader, and it’s neat that you covered some of his famous quotes, but I had not noticed that he was a part of the Army (shows how much I pay attention). But I like that quote a lot, simply because a lot of people tend to hold grudges and allow it to eat at them. I am honestly guilty of doing this myself, so I have to refrain from bottling things in.

    Colin Powell is a great man! Loved this post.

  3. I have used Powell’s quotes many times over the years in writing and talking about leadership, both in the military and business. My personal favorite is “The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is always wrong, unless proved otherwise.” I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II, and even with my experience and long study of military history I am still sometimes amazed by how out of touch commanders at the corps and army (and sometimes even division) levels were with the reality at the front lines. The same thing applies in business: if you’re thinking about changing something or want to know how to do it better, go ask the people who deal with it every day.

    1. That’s great advice, Daniel. I used to say that there’s nothing more dangerous than a high level staff officer with a great idea! Ultimately, it’s the people on the front line who should be making the decisions and giving input to the senior leaders.

  4. Katelyn Hensel

    Colin Powell has been an inspiration to me for a while. I have a “quote wall” that I put around my bathroom mirror and the “Get mad, then get over it” quote is right at the top. In such a small amount of words, Powell has really captured how to deal with the problems that come up in life. If you spend all that time being upset over something, you aren’t taking the time to create a solution

    1. “Get mad and get over it.” That is some great advice by Colin Powell. This man is filled with so much wisdom. I really enjoy reading the Colin Powell books and watching his YouTube videos. This guy is a class act.

  5. My favorite Colin Powell quote that you shared with us is ““experts often possess more data than judgment.” During my career, I found this to be so true. Lots of people can point to numbers and regulations, but few people have intuition and leadership ability. Colin Powell was a brilliant man, but he was even better as a leader. If I had to chose between a “fact” guy and a person with leadership ability, I would gravitate to the person with the leadership ability.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the guest post.


  6. Larry,

    Great post. General Powell has some of the best quotes. My particular favorite is, “Bad news isn’t wine, it doesn’t get better with time.” I actually heard that one first from a Company Commander talking to another peer scolding him for not telling him about something that had happened. Always stuck with me. I also like his quote about bipartisan-ship. The rank of General is a political position no matter how you slice it. I think he understood that completely and understood as well as much as politicians talk about “bipartisanship” it is all hogwash.

    Just my opinion,

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