Powell made his call to action during a keynote speech at Salesforce.com's user and developer conference here. , CEO of the hosted software company, noted in his introduction to the speech that Powell was an early inspiration for Salesforce's own philanthropy program.
"(Companies) need to give on a sustainable basis, not just a one-time drop," said Powell, a four-star general with a long military career and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "They need to give time, talent and treasure."
Powell not only outlined the benefits that companies could reap by contributing back to their communities and the potential labor pool, but also noted that philanthropy creates a work environment that employees value.
He urged businesses to take a leadership role in philanthropy and outlined the qualities of a good executive head.
"Good leaders inspire, not motivate," he said. "The best leaders can inspire (workers), so they can do things through self-motivation." Leadership involves developing a vision and conveying that purpose throughout the company, down to the last person in an organization, Powell said.
Giving employees with the right training to develop needed skills and providing them with the appropriate tools for the task also ranked high on Powell's list of what leaders need to provide their work force.
"You need to make sure the followers have the skills and tools needed to get the job done," Powell noted. "Leadership is about creating bonds of trust."
When Powell arrived at the White House as Secretary of State in 2001, he was surprised to find his agency working with dated Wang computers. During his four-year stint as the State Department's head, Powell said hethat were linked to the Internet.
BlackBerry pagers were also added to the mix and, to Powell's chagrin, were used occasionally by employees as "chick magnets," he said: They would try to impress women by saying they were receiving a message from him.
The former high-ranking official, who retired last year as Secretary of State, also discussed his transition to life as an average guy.
"I don't go through life looking through the rear-view mirror, but there is only one thing I miss--my plane," he joked.
Powell, drawing laughter from the audience, put on a wistful expression as he recalled his use of a 727 airplane, with the long red carpet, accompanying band and honor guard standing by. Now Powell is left with taking shuttle flights and undergoing the same security checks as any individual at the airport.
"I'm getting back to getting normal again," Powell said.