Retired General Stanley A. McChrystal Speaks at Yale SOM Leaders Forum
General Stanley A. McChrystal, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2010, sees a major challenge for leaders in the United States. For decades, Americans led the world and grew used to things being a certain way. But the world has changed—and quickly—and Americans haven't kept pace. "People were raised on things that worked and they don't work anymore," he said. "They're competing against people they didn't even know existed before."
McChrystal, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, spoke on January 10 as part of the Leaders Forum lecture series. He used his own experience of three decades in the U.S. Army to illustrate ways in which individuals can begin to close what he sees as a serious leadership gap in the country. He spoke of the need for leaders to be able to embrace the increasing complexity of the world and find ways to knit together disparate stakeholders into a coherent team able to embrace a "shared consciousness and purpose." "It's the Holy Grail in terms of what's needed to be effective," he said.
At the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, McChrystal was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, an umbrella group joining together the military's most elite units. At the time, the JSOC's role was designed around hostage rescue. But the rise of Al Qaeda changed that: McChrystal had to quickly turn an expanded JSOC, which included units from allied nations, into a counterterrorist organization. The secret, he found, centered on communication. He needed to find a way to enlist all the different groups in a common cause, inspiring a sense of common ownership and responsibility for a clearly understood mission. "Everyone is responsible for getting something done," he said.
McChrystal decided that in order to fuse the disparate groups into a single, effective force, he needed to "live" the experience himself. He stayed deployed for five years and made a point of making sure that everyone understood that he was as deeply invested in the mission as they were. It's important, he told the audience, for a leader to share in the critical aspects of a task. "If there's risk, you've got to share it," he said. "If there's pain, you've got to share it. Everything they're going through, you've got to share. Or you'll lose them."