Gen. Colin Powell Speaks on Leadership at Greenbuild 2010

November 18, 2010

Greenbuild 2010  in Chicago started with a bang as the keynote speaker, Retired General Colin Powell, spoke to the Greenbuild attendees.  In an environment that can only be equaled to a rock concert, Powell addressed the issue of leadership to thousands in the Opening Plenary this morning. 

Powell focused on lessons he learned during his time as an infantry unit leader, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State.  Passion is the key to leadership.  Focusing on the purpose of the group allows good leaders to lead their followers in a way that gets results.  The goal of a leader is not to lead, necessarily, but to instill the purpose of the group into the followers.  The passion the leader shows will inspire the group members.

Additional insights he shared:

  • Give followers the tools they need to fulfill the group’s purpose.
  • Change the “brainware,” or mental attitudes, of both the group and it’s “enemies.”
  • Get inside the “opponent’s” decision cycle – how do they operate, who are they, what is their goal.
  • Recognize performance – a handshake and a “congratulations” often mean more than monetary rewards.
  • Be tough – when someone isn’t performing or contributing to the team purpose, they need to be let go.  Nothing holds the team back.
  • Be empathetic – care about team members, even the “little guys.”
  • People need to be recognized and shown they are important.

The green building world is on the right track.  We need passionate leaders to stand up and show their passion.  A story Powell shared at the end of his speech (paraphrased here), says it all: Approach a framer on a construction site and ask him what he is building, and he will say a frame for a window.  Ask the glazer, and he will say a window.  Ask a craftsman working with small bits of colored glass in a frame what he is building, and he says “a cathedral.”  We have to look beyond our part and realize the impact of our actions on a global level.  Powell encouraged everyone to build their cathedral.

For a video of the complete Opening Plenary session, visit the Greenbuild site.

Logo courtesy of Greenbuild Expo 2010.



Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.