When a military leader hangs up his combat boots after a long and successful career, I always hope that they plan to share their experiences, wisdom and leadership philosophies in the pages of a book. It has become commonplace in the last two decades for a military officer who has been successful on the battlefield to write a book about their life in uniform (Schwarzkopf, Franks, Powell). And, throughout history, we have been fortunate to learn a lot about our greatest, most storied Generals and Admirals (Washington, Grant, Lee, Halsey, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, etc.) through their own writing and words, and those of historians, biographers, authors, and bloggers who have determined that learning and discussing what made these military officers great leaders is valuable knowledge to current and future leaders and scholars. You can find an assortment of these books on the internet.
General Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army Retired) has written a memoir entitled, “My Share of the Task,” adding to the list of many great military leaders whose life in uniform has been chronicled. Stanley McChrystal retired in July 2010 as a four-star General in the U.S. Army. His last assignment was as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He had previously served as the director of the Joint Staff and as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. He is currently a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the co-founder of the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm.
I have yet to add McChrystal’s book to my bookshelf, so this post is not a review or endorsement of it. I absolutely intend on grabbing a copy of his book very soon. Instead, this post is to highlight his leadership philosophy and wisdom that allowed him to climb the ranks of the United States Army to become a Four-Star General. While most people are focusing more attention on how his career came to an abrupt end following a Rolling Stone article in 2010, I would prefer discussing his leadership. I think each of us can learn a lot from this warrior, statesman and scholar.
A one-of-a-kind commander with remarkable record of achievement, General Stanley McChrystal is widely praised for creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence and operations. He stresses a uniquely inclusive leadership model focused on building teams capable of relentless pursuit of results. When old systems fall short, McChrystal believes true leaders must look for ways to innovate and change. From his extraordinary career, McChrystal reveals a four-star management strategy, stressing openness, teamwork, and forward-thinking.
General McChrystal is the co-founder of the McChrystal Group. From his time as a commanding general, he revolutionized key leadership principles such as transparency and inclusion; leveraging the power of teams through shared ownership; and sharing a clear vision for winning with an extended team.
He, along with his team at The McChrystal Group, have developed a program called the CrossLead Way. The principles and operational structure of CrossLead are based on the exceptional military leadership successes of the General and his staff. The principles of CrossLead are:
Build a foundation of relationships based on trust and teamwork.
Understand the operating environment and your organization while constantly adapting for purpose.
Align the team around a clearly defined vision, set of values and an achievable and resilient strategy.
Force and foster a culture of inclusion, transparency, and accountability through constant communication.
Create shared ownership by decentralizing decision-making and execution to the most effective level.
Ruthlessly prioritize, maintain a disciplined and sustainable battle rhythm, and focus on what only you can affect.
Accomplish your objectives. Succeed constantly by relentlessly assessing and improving performance. Win.
From these principles, the McChrystal Group believes that the collective wisdom of an organization is it’s most valuable resource – that trust, speed and discipline are decisive – that leaders are made and leadership is a choice. Most importantly, we believe in winning in any environment.
Since General McChrystal’s retirement, he has shared what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military as a public speaker and lecturer. His overall leadership premise is how can you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets? His answer is by listening and learning — and addressing the possibility of failure. This blog has featured General McChrystal in the past, but I wanted to again highlight some of the key points General McChrystal emphasizes in his presentations to groups, organizations, companies and students:
1) If your people do everything you taught them to do, and they do those things properly, you led them well. People follow leaders.
2) Leaders can let you fail, and yet not let you be a failure.
3) Leaders build confidence and trust in their people. And, those who you are leading have to have faith and trust in the leader. Leaders have to build faith, trust and confidence.
4) In failure, the leader must reach out to his force and rebuild trust and confidence…rebuilt confidence in the force, rebuilt confidence in the leader, and rebuilt confidence in the seniors of the leader and the force.
5) A leader must build consensus and a sense of shared purpose with his force.
6) How does a leader stay credible and legitimate when they haven’t done what the people their leading are doing? Leaders must become more transparent and a lot more willing to listen.
7) Keep your promises and live up to your obligations; to your subordinates, your peers and your superiors. Be ready to support them when they need you most.
8) A leader isn’t good because he is right. They’re good because their willing to learn, and to trust. If you are a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you out. And, if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.
Unfortunately, General McChrystal’s career ended sooner than he or anyone anticipated, but in no way short of victory. As with any abrupt departure of a high-profile military leader due to controversy, scandal or integrity issues, we should always look at what that person did in their career in total; the quality of the individual, and the successes they achieved. General McChrystal dedicated 34 years of his life to the United States Army, and his leadership, warrior spirit and patriotism, without question, is what makes him one of the great military leaders of our time. The military prematurely lost this officer, but the private sector has gained a gem in McChrystal (to use a bit of a pun). We now become the new benefactors of his teachings, wisdom and philosophy. Through his new book, we can see inside this man and the principles that have made him successful. , beyond the controversy of the Rolling Stone article back in 2010. As I said earlier, I intend on purchasing his book, and I think you should too.
Copyright © Dale R. Wilson
Related Articles -
McChrystal Speaks Out on Rolling Stone Article (foxnews.com)
Gen. McChrystal’s Lessons in Leadership (cnbc.com)
[Video] Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on Leadership (youtube.com)
Plywood Leadership: Lessons on Leadership from a Warrior, Statesman and Scholar - Accessed 13 January 2013 – Association for Corporate Growth (ACG Global) - http://www.acg.org/
Listen, Learn…Then Lead – Accessed 13 January 2013 – Command Performance Leadership blog – http://commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com/
Photo Credits -
Book cover and profile picture – The McChrystal Group via http://www.mcchrystalgroup.com/home - Accessed 13 January 2013
Stanley McChrystal: Listen, Learn…Then Lead – http://images.ted.com/images/ted/1e1176d6968f6b244a1962d6231a5410fa7d8ef9_389x292.jpg - Ted.com – Accessed 13 January 2013