Ret. Gen. Colin Powell at the Envestnet Advisor SummitAs politicians debate what should happen next following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible Russian influence in the 2016 elections, Ret. Gen. Colin Powell is urging Americans and their leaders to change their tone and focus.

“I worry about all the arguing and … the language” being used so contentiously today, Powell told a crowd of more than 3,000 advisors and other guests Thursday at the Envestnet Advisor Summit in Austin.

“This is a time for us to think transformatively,” the former secretary of state said. “We want our people to grow. We have to be careful as a country and not just scream at each other … in Washington, D.C. We have other things to do — like improving our educational system.”  

The ex-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also urged Americans “to talk to China” rather than seeing that country as an enemy. “They lifted 600 million people out of poverty. We should be praising them.”

Powell took to the stage after a warm introduction by Stuart DePina, CEO of Envestnet Data & Analytics. “Our next guest is one of the best examples of a transformational leader today,” DePina said.

In his talk, the former National Security Advisor discussed leadership being the result of discipline and about “doing things that are painful because they’re what’s right for the organization.”

Part of a leaders role, he explained, is thinking about all possible scenarios and means of resolving conflicts, including support of international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Winston Churchill, in around 1911 or 1912, said, ‘We did not have to expect war. We are too civilized … being in an industrial age … and have no need to worry about war as in the past,’” Powell explained. “‘Pity if we are wrong.’”

He continued, “This has always been my thinking. We must consider things as soldiers do and be open to all possibilities. … Always be ready for change and to do something else.”

Global Leadership

Powell described the feeling in the U.S. in the early 1990s after the end of the Soviet Union, when a roughly 25% reduction in troops took place: “Transformations are never perfect, but this has to be done.”

While the U.S. was able to offer troops being sent home access to housing, jobs, training and other benefits, Russia couldn’t do the same.

“They did not know how to do it. They were lost and had become a broken Russia, [though] now they have been brought back to some extent with [President Vladimir] Putin.”

With change, “You have to explain why a transition is being done and include those being asked to leave their posts,” he said — adding that trust is key to building positive, powerful organizations. “You must share what is happening,” and be prepared to get honest feedback, too.

Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, said he values to role of immigration in making America a great country.

His own success, he explained, came from attending public schools — including the City College of New York — and joining the Army. “It all happened, I was told, because of performance and potential.”