colin powell’s 13 rules

It has been a nice couple of months to have this amazing content to work from.  Here is an overview of all 13 rules in one place with a link to each of my posts about them.

General Colin Powell’s Thirteen Rules in review:

  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. (Part 1) (Part 2)
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

I think that General Powell’s 13th and final rule is my favorite, yet one of the most difficult ones to carry out.  Come on, “Perpetual optimism” are you kidding?  Obviously Colin was never involved in production in the local church.

Given the reality that it is very easy for most production people to descend into cynicism and pessimism and any other negative –ism you can think of, nothing could be more true that optimism can change most any situation.  So how can I move myself and my team mates toward perpetual optimism being more the norm?

Complain up

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, the small group of soldiers sent to save Private Ryan are trying to get their captain to complain about how stupid their mission is.  Tom Hanks character explains to the men that he doesn’t complain down, only up…that’s just the way things work.  If the captain had given in and moaned and groaned with the rest of this men, they would all have been paralyzed in achieving their objective.

How are you at listening to complaining without joining in?

Speed of the Leader, speed of the team. 

This is one of those overused phrases where I work, yet it is uber-true.  Your team, whether staff or volunteer are looking to you.  They are complaining to you, to see how you are going to respond.  What do you think of the situation?  What is your perspective?  Do you think this plan is as idiotic as the rest of us?

They don’t really know they are doing it, but they are being used to set a trap for you.  They are trying to get you to agree with them, to validate their feelings.  They want someone to help justify their negativity.

What they really need is someone to rise above the situation and provide necessary optimism.  As a leader, you should have a large and wider perspective on why things are playing out in a certain way, and it is your job to point people towards the glass being half full, not half empty.

In my everyday life, I am in need of vision.

I need to be called to something greater…to be lifted up past my complaints.

The people you lead need this too.

As their leader, if you don’t give it to them, who will?

photo by: aturkus

critiquers, complainers and quarterbacks

Colin Powell’s Rule #12 Continued:  Don’t take councel from your fears or naysayers.

In the last post, I talked about not taking counsel of your fears.  Now onto the second group not to take counsel from…naysayers.

No matter what church you are a part of, or whether you are an audio, video or lighting person, we all have the same groups of naysayers:

“How hard can it be? All’s you’ve got to do is…”

“It’s too loud.” or “Why do you have to shine the light in my eyes.”

“We can’t put the drums there.  We always put them on stage right.”

These are just a few examples of types of naysayers:  some that don’t understand anything about the world of production; those that are just consumers of the content you are trying to enhance; and team members that always have a better idea of what you should have done.  How do we handle each of these different groups?


Most non-production people have no idea what it takes to do what you do and for many of them, they just see the end result of all your hard work.  To help educate the uneducated, we need to figure out a way to tell the story about what it takes to do the amazing things that you do.  To just say “yes” or “no”, without a story isn’t helpful.

One way would be to keep a log of what you spend your time on each week and how long certain types of ideas take.  This kind of concrete information will help put context around what is truly involved with making production happen.  It is also helpful to always be telling your story, especially when the pressure isn’t on.  Waiting until something really needs to be done to tell me it usually takes 200 hours of work, is helpful, but not as helpful as if I knew that part of the story sooner.


There will always be a line of people at the booth after a service to complain about the volume, or the bright lights, or the haze in the room.  You cannot get rid of this group of naysayers, no matter how hard you try.  There are 2 necessary elements to not being overwhelmed by these comments.

Have a great understanding of who you listen to.  Is it the senior pastor?  Is it the music director?  Is it your Aunt Bertha?  Who helps you make the decisions about how loud it should get, or what kind of lighting you do, or whether to use haze or not.  Understanding why you do some of these things really matters.  Having someone that you listen to for feedback is critical.

Now that you know whose opinion matters, you can let the comments from complainers roll off you back, but you still have to deal with them.  What should you do?  Be nice.  Listen.  Hear what they have to say.  Is there any truth to what they are complaining about?  If they aren’t satisfied with your answers, have your boss connect with them.

Monday Morning Quarterbacks

It is always easier to see better choices after something is already been done.  In some ways, responding to this group is very similar to the consumers.  Listen to what they are saying, pull the helpful parts out of their complaints and then move on.  There is no way to plan for something perfectly, so get over the fact that you can’t please everyone with the perfect plan.  Something will always not go according to plan, so there will be critique.

I like Dwight Eisenhower’s quote that I have referenced before:

“Planning is everything.  Plans are nothing.”

Making mistakes is a great way to learn what not to do again.  It is the way that we can stretch and get better.  Acknowledge the errors, thank people for their observations, and learn from them for next time.

Naysayers are a part of life.  Tech people are universally known for not dealing with them very well.  It is up to you and I to change that perception.

photo by: jmegjmeg

don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.

I’m guessing that Colin Powell had to deal with Rule #12 quite a bit over the years.  Between being in the military and then in government work, there are no shortages of things to afraid of or people telling you that you are doing it all wrong.

In the world of church production, there can be a constant barrage of fears and naysayers.  It is a large contributor to the fact that most tech people I know if isolated and alone, overworked and overburdened.


I make so many decisions everyday that are based on my fears.  Fear of letting the team down.  Fear of screwing up.  Fear of wrecking the service because of a mistake.

I agree to too many things, because I want to be a team player.  I say “no” to too many things because, what if it doesn’t work?  I don’t take risks because I just want to play it safe.

Following after my fears can make for a horrible life.  I am overworked; I am that guy that says “no” all the time; and I am stuck in a rut, because that is how we always do it.

I just heard someone today say that the only way to get over your fears is to face them, to sit in the middle of them.  When you do that, you can see there isn’t nearly as much to be afraid of’; or you start getting used to the feeling of saying “no” appropriately, or saying “yes” appropriately; or you begin to take calculated risks and they pay off.

Ignoring my fears is one thing.  Don’t get me started with the naysayers.  I’ll save that for the next post.

have a vision. be demanding.

Colin Powell’s rule #11.

I am privileged to work with some pretty amazing people.  When I stop and think about it, I can’t believe that I am counted among them.  A couple of these people, we’ll call them Scarren and Dott, produce, direct and lead an all volunteer live video team and they embody rule each week.

have a vision.

When we talk about the role of production, one of the key phrases they use for live video is transparent.  This guides every decision they make.  They stick to it with tenacity.  In our church auditorium, they know that most people are experiencing our service through the video screens, and so transparency is key.

This single word has defined how our congregation has participated in our services for years, almost beyond number.  I guarantee that nobody has any idea that a vision born twenty-some years ago, and dealt out every day from a room hidden below our auditorium has played such a significant role in their lives.

be demanding.

Being transparent with video doesn’t just happen magically.  These guys work tirelessly with their teams and with each other to keep coming up with ways to be invisible.

One of the key ways they do this is by working continually on the fundamentals.  There isn’t a moment that goes by when they aren’t gently reminding their crew about headroom and lead room.  When they aren’t coaching the graphics operator on how to follow the worship leader instead of just following the script.  When they aren’t encouraging artistic camera shots while discouraging ones that might get in the way of transparency.

As a production manager, anytime I feel like there is something not quite right with a video shot, I’ll pick up the phone to call down to video control, and I already hear them working on it.  They are tenacious with the vision of transparency.

As a result, their teams know what is expected of them.  They know where the bar is, because they are reminded constantly.  Because much is demanded of them, they perform the vision of transparency like no other video team I have seen.  Volunteer or otherwise.

Check out this clip from Delirious? – Live at Willow Creek.  This is what can happen when a volunteer crew has a vision of transparency demanded of them.

Thank you Scarren and Dott for being an example to the rest of us.

remain calm. be kind.

Colin Powell’s Rule #10:  Remain calm. Be kind.


A few years ago, I ran into an audio engineer that I used to work with.  After introducing him to the people around me, he started to tell a story that began with, “My biggest memory of Todd was…”.  I remember thinking, “Oh, crap.  What is he going to say?!”  To my relief, here is basically what he told everyone:


We were in the middle of a service and a particular song started.  Pretty soon into it, Todd leaned over to me and said “strings!”  I responded by bringing up the fader for the strings, while mentally kicking myself for missing the cue.

While I was settling into the mix, Todd leaned back over to me and said “vocals”.  I had been so caught up in missing the strings, that I had forgotten to bring up the vocalist’s mic.

At this point in the story, I am wondering what the punch line is going to be…

I couldn’t believe how calm Todd was, even after I missed the second cue.  I so appreciated not being yelled at and berated.  I was already feeling awful about messing up, and Todd’s response helped me to move on and continue mixing.

What a relief!

As a leader, this situation reminded me of 2 things that matter to me in situations like this and that follow this particular rule of General Powell.

Remain Calm.

The first time I saw the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters that are now everywhere, I couldn’t believe it.  I have been in the habit of saying this to myself for years and suddenly its on a coffee mug.

People look to the leader to see how they respond when all hell is breaking loose.  Am I going to lose my cool, or am I going to calmly solve the problem?

In this example with the audio engineer, I can remember freaking out that we had missed the string quartet cue, but that me yelling at the guy at FOH would probably just fluster him  more than he already was in that moment.

I figure that most people want to do a great job.  He didn’t want to screw up, so telling him to not screw up doesn’t feel like the right answer.  Freaking out would not have solved anything.  In my opinion, freaking out usually just makes things worse.

Be Kind.

I have worked in a few environments where people were motivated to do their very best out of Fear.  Fear of screwing up.  Fear of disappointing someone.  Fear of being yelled at.  These all feel less than ideal to me.

As a production leader, I am pretty aware that I couldn’t mix as well as this particular engineer.  I was also aware that our team/church really needed him to bring his best to our services.  If he were living in fear of me coming down on him every time he screwed up, pretty soon he is working to just not screw up, versus bringing his best for the sake of bringing his best.

There might be more control associated with coming down hard on people, and a little less control involved with people bringing their full self to the table.  You name the day, and I would take people bringing the entirety of who they are and what they can do, and deal with the messiness that comes with it.  I want people to be motivated internally, not by some heavy hand that will squash them when bad things happen.

I know that I want to bring my full self to whatever I am doing, so how can I lead in such a way that encourages that from others?


Remain calm.  Be kind.

photo by: 4nitsirk