Jody Powell’s Wisdom Still Rings True

Powell Tate co-founder Jody Powell was my boss, mentor, and friend for nearly ten years. As I’ve grown as a professional, and become a leader in my own right, I think a lot about what I learned from him and the ways he influenced my professional style. There was so much more, but here are 10 nuggets of wisdom I distilled from my years at his side about communications, management, and life. I get asked for this a lot, so I thought I’d post it here where it will be readily accessible; apologies to those of you who have seen this before.

1. Sometimes, a client has an indefensible position rather than a communications problem. Helping them get to sounder ground isn’t easy, but there is a gracious way to do it, and it’s worth doing.

2. Clients occasionally have overly inflated senses of what we can do for them. They are better off, and we are better off, if we level with them from the outset.

3. The right thing to do almost always winds up being the smart thing to do over the long haul.

4. Being pissed off is not a strategy. Help clients get from anger to something more productive.

5. There are few pieces of writing that don’t get better by being made shorter. Some time for reflection and a good, sharp pencil are essential.

6. Storytelling is one of the oldest and most important of all human activities – one of the very things that makes us human. In essence, we are storytellers for our clients. Make ‘em ones you’d want to hear.

7. The human voice is an amazing instrument, and it’s not just for singing. Don’t underestimate how much you can convey by your tone, pitch, pacing and style. (If anyone doubts this, listen to some of Jody’s voiceover work in Ken Burns’ Civil War as Stonewall Jackson and Baseball as fellow-Georgian Ty Cobb, or old tapes of Jody at the White House podium.)

8. Be humble enough to let people know your failings and what you’ve learned from them.

9. Treat everyone with dignity, respect and loyalty, and they will never forget it. He was fond of saying that our most important corporate assets walk out the door every night.

10. Work is important, but family, friends and faith are even more so. In Washington, it can be very easy to lose sight of what really matters. Don’t.

Thanks, Jody, for all you meant to us and for the many ways you shaped so many of us into the professionals and people we are today.