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Colin Powell's Secret of Leadership? Stay Yourself

In a new memoir, the four-star general opens up about Iraq, getting older — and how he met Elvis

General Colin Powell's latest book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, published in May, made news with its revelation that there was never any considered debate in the Bush administration about the war in Iraq. But the book has more to offer in the vivid experiences and lessons learned that have shaped the legendary public service career of the four-star general and former secretary of state. At its heart are Powell's "Thirteen Rules" — notes he gathered over the years and that now form the basis of his leadership presentations given throughout the world. Among them: "Get mad, then get over it" and "Share credit." The general answered a few questions for AARP.

Q: In your new book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, you present 13 rules. One is, "Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it." This could also apply to someone who takes his physical attributes too seriously.

A: Don't I know it. When I look in the mirror, I see a 75-year-old guy with a back problem. But I have worked hard not to change much, because it gives people a sense of constancy and stability. I still email with college friends from almost 60 years ago. They ground me, and remind me of who I was and still am.

Q: What's your advice to younger men about aging well?

A: Work hard, but live a balanced life. Family is very important to take you out of your elevated position and make you just another guy. And have outside interests. My hobby for many years was working on old Volvos. I could think more clearly putting on an alternator than sitting in my office grinding out paper.

Q: What makes a person attractive?

A: There's a physical component to it. People are attractive who look attractive. But I think the old expression "skin deep" is still pretty accurate. I have met a lot of people in my time who on first impression seem very, very physically attractive, both men and women. But I never rested only on that. I want to see what the person is really like. So attractiveness has to be physical attractiveness, emotional attractiveness and attraction that comes from in-depth knowledge of the person.

Next: Powell's impressions on meeting the King of Rock 'n' Roll. »

Q: Why do you think your wife, Alma, fell for you?

A: It was a blind date. I was going with a friend of mine to pick her off so that he could have a clear shot at her roommate. This was in Boston, and I walked in not expecting anything, and there she was. She sat there annoyed that she had been set up like this, but she looked at me, and she ran into the bathroom to clean all of the junk off her face that she had put on to be vampy. And we started dating, and the attraction was fairly immediate.

Q: You served in the army in Europe, where you ran across Elvis Presley a couple of times when he was also a soldier. What was he like?

A: When I met him, he was a sergeant, and we were in the woods in Germany, and he just looked like every other pimple-faced sergeant, trying to get along. And he was a good soldier. He gave up, not that he had any choice, he was drafted, but he just willingly said, "OK, I'm an American, and I will serve." When he was in uniform, and out in the field, doing what other soldiers were doing, he was a fine soldier. And when I saw him, I was a lieutenant, and he properly saluted and sir'd me left and right ... I always admired him, that he served his country, and he knew the service he was providing to his public through his music and his movies, some of which are really quite good. With that combination of things — the physical attractiveness, the attractiveness of his personality, the music — it all came together.

Q: What's pleasantly surprised you about growing older?

A: That I have remained fairly healthy. As one of my friends says, "When I get up in the morning, I put my feet on the floor, and I thank the Lord my sheet was not my shroud and my bed was not my cooling board."