Insights and Opinions


In light of our recent mid-term elections, I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about leadership the past several weeks. It has been said that leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management thinks is possible. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I have been reflecting a lot on what leadership means and to whom these days as my state and country seemingly continue to struggle with its concepts.

To give you some perspective on my own personal experience with leadership, I grew up an Air Force brat and my father was a career officer and pilot. I’ve played on numerous sports teams where I have had the privilege of both being a captain and following the leadership of a few good ones. I’ve held officer roles in numerous fraternal organizations and non-profits and have been a CEO and board director for a number of for profit companies. I have taken several leadership and “leadership related” classes at USC and Stanford GSB and heard a number of folks whom I consider to be great leaders speak on the topic over the years. Through all of this, I’ve learned a few things about leadership in my life and was planning on sharing a few of these with you today.

I spent some time thinking, reviewed numerous notes I have taken on the topic in preparation for writing this post, stumbled across some notes I took while attending a speech by former Secretary of State General Colin Powell…and decided that I’m not sure I’m capable of articulating what leadership means to me better than Powell did that day. So, instead of rambling on, I think I will simply share several principles from his speech here.

  • Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
  • The day employees stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
  • Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
  • Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
  • You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
  • Keep looking below the surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.
  • Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
  • Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.
  • Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
  • Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
  • Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.
  • Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
  • Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
  • The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
  • Have fun in your command. don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it: spend time with your families. Corollary: surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.
  • Command is lonely.

I have about a page of notes on each of these principles that I have compiled but rather than share them here, I’d rather hear from you as to which of these principles resonate with you. Any you object to? Any you’d add?

Marc Averitt is a Co-Founder and Managing Director of Okapi Venture Capital (">"> and is responsible for Okapi Ventures' information technology investments. Marc also maintains a personal blog about venture capital in and around Orange County at, where this was originally posted.