Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed a packed audience Monday in Rupp Arena at the opening session of the Alltech REBELation, an international conference exploring innovation, inspiration and world-changing ideas that continues through Wednesday.

It was the first time the event’s plenary sessions were held in the famed Rupp Arena, a venue large enough to accommodate the nearly 3,000 attendees from 63 countries.

In the spirit of the company’s 31st annual conference, Alltech president and founder Dr. Pearse Lyons introduced Powell as “America’s favorite rebel.” Celebrated for his steady hand at the helm of the ship of state, Powell is high on the list of most admired leaders in the United States in the past 20 years, said Lyons.

“Be a rebel like Gen. Powell. That’s what you’re here for,” Lyons told the crowd, inviting them to “do things differently,” a fundamental to both leadership and innovation.

A four-star general who served four U.S. presidents in various roles, including national security advisor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the United States’ 65th secretary of state, Powell shared his insights on leadership with attendees.

Powell underscored that “leaders need to set a purpose. The best leaders convey purpose to everyone in their organization.” He said he often advises young people to “be a success every day; give your best every day. That will bring you satisfaction.”

Posing the question “How do you know you’re a good leader?” Powell responded: “If your troops follow you, even if only out of curiosity.” Noting that he never once voiced the military cliché, “That’s an order!” Powell added, “You constantly have to work on building bonds of trust within the organization.”

The military maxim “Make sure you take care of the troops” translates in the business realm, said Powell. “Make sure you are giving your people everything they need to get the job done.”

As Lyons observed, “The number one thing missing from agriculture and business today is leadership. And when I think of leadership, General Powell comes first to mind. He is decisive, courageous and a force multiplier of perpetual optimism. For inspirational leadership, we need not look any further than General Powell, and, for this reason, he is the ideal recipient of our 2015 Medal of Excellence.”

The Medal of Excellence is Alltech’s highest distinction, awarded annually to someone of great achievement and character. Previous honorees include scientists such as Dr. Eugenia Wang for her pioneering work in microRNA and agricultural leaders such as Norman Borlaug, the “father of the Green Revolution.”

REBELation’s all-star line-up includes more than 110 speakers such as Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble, who also spoke Monday. Tuesday’s speakers will be Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Raymond McCauley, chair of the biotech track at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank.

REBELation wraps up Wednesday with an address by University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari, who will receive the Alltech Humanitarian Award.

Clips from Powell and Stengel’s presentations, along with a host of media resources, are available at Follow the conversation on Twitter with #REBELation.