Years ago, I taught the Navy’s leadership course to naval officers in the Bay Area. The material borrowed from great thinkers and military leaders including Gen. Colin Powell. His leadership primer was extremely useful in providing tools for routine and tactical leadership challenges, and there were some life lessons packed into the primer as well.

Lesson 15: When should you take decisive action? General Powell recommended a P=40 to 70 formula which means do not take action if you have less than a 40% chance of being right. Once you’re in that 40 to 70 probability of success range … go with your gut. I have always remembered his advice.

Last year, I was looking at surgery to remove a nodule that could be malignant. While the probability factor was less than Gen. Powell’s 40% threshold, my specialist pushed for surgery. I asked for another test. The second test moved the probability factor well into the P=40 to 70 range. Let’s go. The operation and subsequent tests have indicated the surgery was a complete success. Now, I’m not recommending anyone make medical decisions based on Colin Powell’s leadership primer, but his advice gave me a starting point to weigh the pros and cons of an important life decision.

I watched Gen. Powell’s funeral last Friday. It was sad, but how blessed are we as a nation to have such a great general, statesman and an even better person serve as one of our top leaders?

Ray Fowler

Redwood City

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(3) comments

Terence Y

Ray - thanks for the letter. However, for those folks who haven’t heard of the rule, perhaps you can enlighten us with the above 70 range? Anything above 70 is a foregone conclusion to take action? 100: too late to take action or you should have already taken action and your personnel retention P-score is now being debated by your bosses?

Ray Fowler

Hey, Terence

Waiting until you have information above the 70% probability of success range may actually work to a decision maker's detriment due to emerging conditions. According to Gen Powell... "Don't take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don't wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds 'analysis paralysis.' Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk."

Link to Gen. Powell's primer... https://www.pnbhs.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Colin-Powell-Leadership.pdf

Napoleon once said, “Gentlemen. If you're going to take Vienna, take it.” So, maybe worrying about your personal retention P-score should not be part of the decision making process.



Fine thoughts about a fine man. I admired him for having enough backbone and spine to admit his mistakes. A lot of people wanted him to run for a political office, it is too bad he didn't.

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