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General Colin Powell on Leadership and Innovation on Long Island

Nov 2, 2016

Recently, more than 1,000 Long Island business people gathered for the annual Long Island Association Fall Luncheon. The luncheon featured a conversation between LIA President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Law and former Secretary of State, General Colin L. Powell.

Law started off the Q&A session by posing a question to Powell regarding leadership.  He asked the General what he learned about leadership throughout his career in the military.  As outlined in his recent book It Worked for Me: In Life in Leadership, Powell went on to say that leadership is all about followership. The individuals who succeed as leaders are the ones who can understand the needs of other people, no matter their position in the organization.  These are the people who will stop and talk to anyone in an organization.  General Powell spoke about how it is equally as important to understand the needs and roles of the people working for the leader, and related a personal story where he spent some time with the individuals who worked in the parking garage below his office, asking them about their responsibilities and interacting with them, demonstrating how important they are to the success of the organization.  It boils down to the importance of each and every human being in an organization; in order for the organization to survive as a whole, everyone is necessary.  All leaders need to put the followers in the best possible environment to achieve whatever mission has been set before them.  When a leader shows respect, respect will then be given in return. 

Law continued the conversation by describing to Powell and the audience how Long Island has been trying to grow an innovation-based economy.  There are many start-ups coming out of the great research institutions here on the Island yet we as a region have had trouble getting venture capital firms from the Silicon Valley region to pay attention to us here.  He asked the General how he would suggest getting their attention.   Powell responded that we as a region need to make our case heard.  We have a body of people here in the region that has the education, the background and the passion to get involved in startups. We have to have an infrastructure that will support this innovation.  Being a former New Yorker, the General added that Long Island has always had a problem keeping our community attractive to young people so they won’t move away at the first opportunity they get.  Powell urged the audience to meet the people in Silicon Valley and to make a pitch as a region: “They will come out here if it seems it’s worth it.”  Per Powell, money goes where it is found to be safe when it gets there.   Qualified people who can turn the money into an advantage by investing in something or creating a new product are what are of interest to the venture capital firms.  As a region, we need to continue investing in innovation while building a place where young people want to plant their roots.

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Christine Gagnon

Christine Gagnon is an Audit Partner and a leader of the Florida Life Sciences and Technology Group.

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