Stanley McChrystal on Leadership is a Choice (Full Transcript)

And the approach is probably pretty common sense. There were a number of organizations that had to become a part of the solution. They were a whole of government approach. Different intelligent agencies, Department of State, FBI and what not, all had to become a part of this. And partner nations as well, if we were going to understand and deal with the problem. So, that’s pretty straightforward, just get all of these entities, bring them into a single team, and go accomplish a complex, requirement.

If you’ve ever been a part of this, I’ve never seen that happen much. Because, that’s just not the way that people operate. It does on paper, even works on a keynote slide, but this took us several years to pull off, because there were some real challenges. First off, we had a counter terrorist task force that had all these forces in it, and I was the leader, but I wasn’t in command. I commanded the military part of it, but everybody else was there on a handshake. So, everybody else was there basically on a volunteer basis from their organization or individually, so you can’t tell them what to do. I didn’t have statutory control. I couldn’t hire them. I couldn’t fire them. I couldn’t give them a pay raise. I couldn’t give them a bonus. I couldn’t do anything like that, so they’re there working as part of this task force. But I don’t have the kind of coercive control, or reinforcing things, that we normally attach to management or commanding control.

So, it required us to lead by influence. Now, if you think military, you say well we don’t lead by influence, we lead by tell everybody to do this and everybody does that. That’s never been the truth in the military. But in this kind of organization, it was particularly not going to be the truth. So, you had to convince people that what they — you wanted them to do was something that they wanted to do, and it was in their interest. And so, we came upon something that was very different from what we expected. The real solution to this was something we came up with, called shared consciousness and purpose.

And if you think about, I grew up with sort of barrel chested, big knuckled commandos, and you throw something like that up there, you’ll get your ass kicked. So you had to go back and remind them what it’s about, because this is what it’s about. It’s about winning. And I’m not talking just military. If you’re in a business, it’s about winning what you do. If you’re an educator it’s about educating kids. There’s some standard of winning in whatever you do, and that’s what it’s about.

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So the first thing if you think about with winning, it’s results. You got to figure out what results you are and you got to identify them. In our case, we had to prevent Al Qaeda attacks.

The second, we had to be effective. And that meant, for us, very precise operations. The kind you’ve gotten used to seeing, the raid that got Osama Bin Laden, extraordinarily effective in its execution. In this case you had to be on the right target at the right time, every time. But suddenly, you had to do this not once every three months, you had to do this, ten times a night. Because it had to be scalable. The size of the problem that Al Qaeda and associated movements, gave us was extraordinarily different, than anything we’d focused before. We were an organization that was designed, to be a very deliberate in its planning and execution, been very successful. But instead suddenly we had to do that on a speed, that didn’t allow you to have centralized control of operations, in the way that you were used to.

This is one month in Iraq, October 2007. That is just key leaders captured or killed. The scope of violence at that point in Iraq was such that, that level of effort was required.

So how do you get there, how do you do that? The solution’s pretty clear. In a very complex, constantly changing environment, you got to be operating at the highest level ever, faster than anyone ever even thought about it.

Now how do you get that mission statement from somebody? Do cold fusion by morning. So what’s the approach to fixing this? How do you get there?

This is the first, reflexive way most organizations, and ours did. We’re going to do what we already do, we’re just going to do it better. We’re going to become the best shots, the best pilots, the best everything in the world. And we’re going to execute so well, and we’re going to work harder than ever before. The problem with this is there is a limit to physics. You can get better and better and better. At a certain point you can’t get that much better. The assembly line can’t get that much more efficient and faster. Some other way has got to be found. And this is what we came up with. Shared consciousness and purpose, we didn’t put it in a big, fuzzy, red ball. For obvious reasons.

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So, we spring this on people, and this is great. Because that’s the obvious answer, right? And then that’s the obvious question. I got it boss. We’ll do that, and oh by the way what is it? So what do we think it is? This is what we think it is, or what I think it is. It’s everybody understanding everything. Obviously that’s an unattainable standard, but everybody having all the same information. Not to draw all the same conclusions, but so that everybody has all the pieces of the puzzle and the combined wisdom gives you the opportunity not to be dependent upon a single person or, a few people, to direct this organization.

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