“Stay away from stupid reality shows, and don’t spend all your time texting the person next to you.”
The former secretary of state, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and retired four star general doled out advice last night at his alma mater, George Washington University, during a discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates.
Powell received his MBA from GW in 1971, where he says he got “all A’s,” but as an undergraduate at City College of New York he muddled through with a “C” average as a geology major, a course of study he described as “rocks for jocks.”
He didn’t stand out as an athlete either. “I’m the only black kid from Harlem who can’t play basketball,” he joked.
“And then I found ROTC. I found a sense of purpose, and it turned me on and it became my life’s work.”
Last night he focused on his favorite subject, leadership, the theme of his last book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership.”
“I think it’s something you’re born with. It’s something inside you,” he said about his ability to inspire others.
He explained that Russian President Vladimir Putin has the gift too.
“Mr. Putin, I know very well. I’ve negotiated with him, and spent many hours talking with him, and he’s KGB through and through. He has done something for the Russian people. He has restored their sense of pride and respect for themselves as a country.”
The same can’t be said for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, according to Powell.
“I remember my last meeting with Arafat, and I said to him: ‘Are you going to give me something to work with? I’m the only person in our administration who will talk to you. Don’t be a political leader, be a governing leader.’ And I remember he jumped up and said, ‘You are a general, and I am a general, and I will obey!’ And he did nothing.”
Powell said the cease fires in Gaza are just a small step, and a perpetual challenge for anyone who is secretary of state.
“All of us have tried and none of us have succeeded,” he said of peace in the Middle East. “It’s become an even more difficult situation.”
And what about things closer to home? Not an optimistic forecast there either.
“Washington desperately needs help,” Powell said. “I’ve never seen a situation between Congress and the administration and other agencies of government like this. We have got to find a way to come together.”