About General Colin L. Powell

General Colin L. Powell served as the U.S. National Security Adviser from 1987 to 1989, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He is founder of America’s Promise, which is a nonprofit that focuses on helping children from all socioeconomic sectors, and runs that with his wife, Alma. His most recent book, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership,” focuses on lessons learned throughout his career that apply to business and management in a host of industries, including parking. Powell is an avid car enthusiast who spends his free time restoring classic Volvos.

What I Learned from Parking

Colin L. Powell

General Colin L. Powell offered the following to The Parking Matters® Blog from his new book “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.”

When I was Secretary of State, I slipped away one day from my beautiful office suite and vigilant security agents and snuck down to the garage. The garage is run by contract employees, most of them immigrants and minorities making only a few dollars above minimum wage.

The garage is too small for all the employees’ cars. The challenge every morning is to pack them all in. The attendants’ system is to stack cars one behind the other, so densely packed that there’s no room to maneuver. Since number three can’t get out until number one and two have left, the evening rush hour is chaos if the lead cars don’t exit the garage on time. Inevitably a lot of impatient people have to stand around waiting their turn.

The attendants had never seen a Secretary wandering around the garage before; they thought I was lost. (That may have been true by then, but I’d never admit it.) They asked if I needed help getting back “home.”

“No,” I answered. “I just want to look around and chat with you.” They were surprised, but pleased. I asked about the job, where they were from, were there problems with carbon monoxide, and similar small talk. They assured me everything was fine, and we all relaxed and chatted away.

After a while I asked a question that had puzzled me: “When the cars come in every morning, how do you decide who ends up first to get out, and who ends up second and third?”

They gave each other knowing looks and little smiles. “Mr. Secretary,” one of them said, “it kinda goes like this. When you drive in, if you lower the window, look out, smile, and you know our name, or you say ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or something like that, you’re number one to get out. But if you just look straight ahead and don’t show you even see us or that we are doing something for you, well, you are likely to be one of the last to get out.”

I thanked them, smiled, and made my way back to where I had abandoned my now distraught bodyguard.

At my next staff meeting, I shared this story with my senior leaders. “You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness, and a kind word,” I told them. “Every one of our employees is an essential employee. Every one of them wants to be viewed that way. And if you treat them that way, they will view you that way. They will not let you down or let you fail. They will accomplish whatever you have put in front of them.”

Read more insight about parking, business, and leadership in Gen. Powell’s exclusive interview with The Parking Professional magazine–look for the August issue coming soon!