Stanley McChrystal on Leadership is a Choice (Full Transcript)

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Stanley McChrystal – Rtd. United States Army General

Thanks. Joe, thanks for overly kind words, and thanks for your all for letting me be here today. As Joe mentioned I’m one of about 200 four star generals, and I’m sure I’m in the top 196. I want to ask you to do something for me though. I’ve gotten to speak since I retired at some amazing places. And I went to the UK and spoke at Oxford. And that’s an amazing experience, so I went in and they took me in a historic room, a lot of polished wood and stuff like that, and right before you go in, they show you a picture of Teddy Roosevelt, speaking right from where you’re going to speak, just to remind you you’re not Teddy Roosevelt.

So I go in to speak and I’ve done a little prep and I think I’m going to do pretty well but, right in front of me, as soon as I started talking, a person falls asleep. And if you’ve ever tried to speak publicly, and right in front of where your gaze is a person’s almost snoring, it’s really distracting. So I don’t think I haven’t been invited back. So, and that was Annie, my wife. So, if anybody here, could help me just kind of poke her if you see her nodding off. That would be good.

But she’s been special to me, and as Joe mentioned, go through a military career there are points in life that are pretty, pretty big deals. And in the Army when you get selected for brigadier general, when you’re promoted to that it’s a big step. Get about 24, 25 years in service. It’s a big step. And it’s designed to pump your ego up. And I was a systems division commander for an old friend of mine. So I’m in this ceremony with my parents present, Annie’s parents present, a bunch of friends. An old friend of mine pins this general star on me, so I am feeling very good about me. And so, I slide up next to Annie and I go, Annie in your wildest dreams, did you ever think you’d be standing next to me as a brigadier general? And she said Stan, you’re not in my wildest dreams.

So, yeah. So, my ego is well in check, and it’s right there, so. Thanks, thanks very much for letting me be here. What I thought we’d talk about a little bit today is leadership, because it’s something that we all know a lot about. We all know most of the right answers. But, we as a group, and as a nation, tend to struggle getting the answers right. So, sometimes we got to set and look at very strong statements. A lot of people say this now. And if you believe that, whether you do or not, you’d have to believe this. And then we got to look inside, because we go okay, what would cause that, why would that be the case? Or is that really true? No, we’re great leaders.

But, then you look at some of the things that have happened over the last even decade, some of the challenges we’ve faced and you ask, whether we’ve as effectively dealt with them as we would like to. And it’s arguable whether we did. So you come to the question okay, why? Have we gotten stupid? Have we gotten lazy? Have we gotten selfish? What has caused us to be so concerned about the level of leadership in America? And I’ve got a few thoughts.

First off, I don’t think we’ve gotten stupid. I don’t think we’ve gotten soft. I don’t think we’ve gotten of bad intentions. I think we still want to lead well. But, I think what has happened is we had many, many years in which one model, and one style of leadership was rewarded with success. The things that worked well, worked well for generations, and so they were reinforced by people wanting to use those more. And that’s natural, you do what works. But in fact, as things start to change, sometimes you find they don’t work as well. Sometimes you get more competition we do. As Tom Friedman will tell you about the world being flat it’s much closer than it used to be. We’re not competing with the people next door, we’re competing with everyone now.

Also things happen faster. We communicate faster. It all goes at a speed. You can’t be in a front office and let things come up at the speed of paper, through a bureaucracy and be relevant anymore. They’re more complex. They’ve always been more, they’ve always been complex, but I’d argue it’s probably more than ever. And you know when you tell everybody to do something, if you’re the great leader in the front office, they don’t always do it with quite the speed, or dedication that you wish they were. The discipline of a lot of things in our society, look at our political parties, don’t respond like we think they did, or like we think they should. And so what I think we’ve got now is a gap. We had a very successful model, or at least it was successful for many people and suddenly we’ve got a requirement that’s different from what we had, and so it’s not working so well.

Now this was something that I think I personally experienced in my career in the military. And so maybe I can put it in that context. For me, where it began. In April of 1980, I was a young special forces officer, a Green Beret, in Thailand. And thousands of miles away from where I was, something happened that changed the rest of my career. And I had no idea at the time that it would. And what occurred was, in the deserts of Iran, a mission called Eagle Claw which was President Carter’s directed rescue attempt, to bring Americans captured, held hostage in the American Embassy in Tehran failed. And it failed very publicly, and failed very painfully. What happened was, the raid force went in, and two groups, it went in in helicopters. And it went in in C130 aircraft. And on the ground, the helicopter maintenance got to the point where they had to abort the mission, and that was disappointing.

Then as they were moving to pull that force out a C130 fixed wing aircraft and a helicopter collided, produced a fireball, killed eight Americans, and caused the mission to have to be aborted of course publicly now. The tragic loss of life, the failure of an American mission to bring Americans home. And put this in context for you, this was about five years after America had pulled out of Vietnam, in great frustration. And it was four years after Israel had pulled off the raid at Entebbe, with tremendous success.

So what happened was, you had America. The forces that I was a part of called, to do a National mission and end in failure. It was extraordinarily important. It was extraordinarily important not just, because what happened, but because what people did about it. To a degree I would argue that, had that mission been successful, America’s special operations forces now which you read and see so much about, wouldn’t be what they are, because people would have been satisfied with the status quo. Instead, what happened in that community is people said, never again. We’ll never be called on and not be able, to do what the nation asks us to do and needs us to do.

And so a change began. And it started by taking some units which has existed, and some units which were stood up, very specialized forces like the Seals, Rangers, et cetera. And those forces were honed for the missions that people thought were going to be required, and very quickly they became world class. I mean, they became as good or better than what anyone had in the world. And they became successful in a number of places around the world, Panama, Grenada, other places. They had extraordinary success in doing what the nation asked.

But they were also stove-piped. They tended to grow separately. When they grew separately, as a lot of cohesive organizations do, they tend to become a bit tribal. I mean, look at any organization that’s got great pride in itself, any team, any University. Any element fraternity it feels great, you tend to become so cohesive that nobody’s quite as good as you. So you’re not really comfortable dealing with anybody, but you. So we had this very effective, but very tribal organization. And to solve this problem a headquarters is created called Joint Special Operations Command, and this was to create a team of teams, to take these organizations and make them into a cohesive organization that could do whatever the nation did, and it was very, very effective. Extraordinarily so, but it was also narrowly focused. It was designed for hostage rescue. It was designed for going after people like the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Very finite challenges to specific problems that the nation faced. And that was fine, until things changed.

Actually things changed a bit earlier than we think on 9/11, because although a lot of people don’t realize it, Al Qaeda declared war on the United States in 1996. Most Americans didn’t know that. Most Americans think it began with the attack on the World Trade towers on September 11. But in fact we had a different challenge in the world. Lots of causes for it, room for about three more long-term discussions. But it was a different requirement for a force designed for counter-terrorist operations.

Suddenly we had something that was culturally different than what we had faced before. And it was difficult to understand. It didn’t have a finite doctrine that was as a clear as some of the previous organizations that we structured ourselves against. And we geographically dispersed it. It wasn’t in one place. It was in a bunch of places. And it moved around all the time.

It also had a tendency to change everything it did would be, for a very short period of time, if you dealt with Al Qaeda in associated movements one month, three months later, it was extraordinarily different. And so you had to constantly update your thinking on how you dealt with it. And they operated differently. If you’re old enough to remember or read about the terrorist operations in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, they tended to be high profile things like hijackings or hostage taking, and then there would be a series of demands made. And the demands would say release people from prison, and we’ll release the hostages. Or, put a certain amount of money, or do something like that. This was an era in which terrorists didn’t do that. They made a demand like get all Western forces out of the Middle East which was probably illogical or, at least, not going to happen.

But then instead of taking hostages and making demands, they simply killed people. They crashed aircraft into towers. They blew things up and then they looked you in the eye and they said, it’s a tough world, how do you like that? So very different challenge faced us. So there’s a gap. There’s a very narrow, very effective, focused capacity against a very wide, very different kind of problem. And it took a different approach to deal with it.

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.

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.

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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And then the second part of it is all these people across the organization feel like they own the mission. If you ask people what their mission is, it’s not, hey I’m here cutting this stone. It’s I’m part of a team building a cathedral. And it’s really a big change in many organizations. And it was big change in our organization.


So we came up with really breaking it into three parts. The first was designing it and that’s understanding what you’re doing. We’ll talk quickly about it, what. Executing, and how do you actually do it. That’s where most organizations struggle. And then finally, leading it because that’s the most important but the most difficult part.

So think about defining winning. We went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. We’ve been there ever since, and yet if I asked everyone in this room what the definition of winning in Afghanistan is. We’d probably get many, many different answers. When I went there in the summer of 2009 to take over, I had different mission statements from different headquarters. I was a NATO General, and I was a US Commander. And I had two different mission statements. Which is great, just pick the one you want. You’re always going to be in trouble.

So you got to define winning and then the second is, you got to rely on your strategy. We had 46 nations in Afghanistan. The bottom line is, everybody’s got to understand not just where you’re going, but how you’re going to get there. And if you think about any organization, if you don’t have an agreement on how you’re going to get there, you’re going to struggle, en-route.

And then defining team. What’s your team, for something? Typically when we define team we want to say it’s the people who wear the uniform we wear. It’s the people who operate in the same organization. It’s the people whose paycheck are signed by the same person. People in the same school, same hat, same sweatshirt, you name it. But I’ll argue that’s way too small. The team is whatever community is required to get the task done. So if you think about it, the team required to put this talk on today, the business school, obviously me. Somebody had to get me here. Somebody had to turn the lights on, somebody’s got to produce the power for this, somebody’s got to do all the different parts. I’d argue that’s the team. And it’s much more complex than you think and one of the problems is, everybody’s got to understand they’re on the team, and feel like a part of it.

So unlike just the group that is on the target, all the people, the Medevac, the people flying, predator UAVs and whatnot, they’re just as important as the people doing the actual task because if they’re not successful, the endeavor’s not successful. We’ve got to reward and motivate people as part of that wider team.

Then building a network. We talk a lot about building networks and that’s building, typically we confuse that with just the information technology. We build connectivity to everyone, we give everybody a cellphone, iPad, computer, whatever it is we’re going to use, and we say, okay, we’ve got a network. Well in reality, you’ve got the potential for a network. A network is that connection that actually occurs that does something. Do people communicate, do people, collaborate, do people operate more effectively because of that connectivity? And I would say that, that’s the goal but they don’t automatically. You’ve got to foster and force communication. This is a picture of Mike Bloomberg. That’s where he works in New York City. That’s a place called the bullpen. It’s a room a little smaller than this, and he sits in the middle. He doesn’t have a private office. This is a billionaire mayor of America’s biggest city, and he doesn’t have an office. And you go in and talk to him, you say, well, where do you really meet people? He goes, right here. And if people want to talk to him, they talk to him right there, and it passes information. And it’s extraordinarily effective. There he is.

Then, you got to do what you say is important. We talked about discipline and prioritizing the effort. This is, a tool we used, it’s a synchronization matrix. The bottom line is, if you take most people’s schedule, and you say, first you ask them, what’s important to you in your life or your job, and they, they list it out. Then you take their calendar or their daily schedule and said, where do you actually spend your time? And you’ll find, we’re very challenged to spend our time against what we think is important. Similarly our money or anything else we’ve got, to spend our real assets against what’s important to us. And it takes rigorous discipline to make that occur.

Then you got to lead this thing. You got to build relationships. There’s a picture here of two gentlemen. President de Klerk, obviously, of South Africa, and Nelson Mandela. Now they had 2 organizations. A white apartheid government, and the African National Congress, and they were the leaders of organizations that didn’t want to come together. Those two organizations were polarized, and it was producing violence and it was likely to produce a lot more violence. So you had 2 leaders, who had to make the personal decision to pull themselves into a personal relationship at great risk to themselves politically and even physically, so that their organizations would be pulled toward the center.

Now in my mind that’s leadership right there. Because they led not only their organizations they led the nation, but they did it through a personal relationship. And these are not two guys who met in a sports bar, and hung out. One had to let the other out of prison, so that they could build a relationship. Extraordinarily, challenging, but extraordinarily important. Something that I’m very interested in is the American Civil Rights Movement. My family’s from the South, and I got to watch it as a boy. And it was an extraordinary strategy. This is one of the few movements that ever followed a disciplined strategy of non-violent protests, that was successful. And it was a great strategy, and it was disciplined people. But it didn’t succeed just because of that. It took an inspirational leader. In fact, leaders. We think of Martin Luther King, but they’re actually more than one person. But it took extraordinarily inspirational leaders, who were willing to stand up and take that role. People who are willing to realize that leaders actually lead. They don’t follow opinion.

And then there’s the requirement to change. In combat, if you don’t change, you pay a price. If you’re at Lehman Brothers, and you don’t pay a price, you get a cardboard box. So, the organization either learns and adapts, or it’s gone.

So, what is this? It’s shared consciousness and purpose. This is — it’s not a cycle that happens in sequence, it’s a cycle that happens all the time. At the heart of it, it’s communication. Without a doubt, it’s more than communication, it’s really leadership. And then in reality and this is what scares people when you actually talk about it. It’s culture change. Because why do people form a culture? Because it’s comfortable and for them it works. And why do they defend it? Because it’s worked for them.

So now as we go forward to what we call this now as CrossLead, but it’s really some common sense. Forms of leadership.

Now I want to talk just about a few leadership intangibles and then we’ll open it up for discussion. Because there’s an awful lot of this that is enduring but it’s worth talking about. That’s my only Roman poet quote. It’s the only one I know. But it’s also important because if you think about leadership. Think about people who’ve actually experienced it and had challenges. If someone cruised on to success from birth, they’re probably not going to have learned as much along the way as someone who’s had to climb over a number of things. In business, politics, you name it.

So let’s talk about some of these. First is your personal interactions. You are, as a leader, extraordinarily important. You don’t think of it. We’re not raised to have big egos. When I was young, I never thought, I thought of myself as any other of the knuckleheads, and I was, and I still am. But when I was a battalion commander I used to write personal notes, and one time I wrote a note to some wives, in the unit, that Andy had recommend I do because they’d done a lot of good work for it, and went over to their quarters, and one of the notes was framed. It was a handwritten note, just a thank you note, and they had it framed on the wall, the wife did. And you suddenly realize, how important thanking people are, is, and how important you as a leader can be. You can have that impact. It doesn’t mean you think you’re a cool person. But it does mean, you can touch people, and you should do that. So every time you have interactions, you’ve got to figure out, how can I get this right? And you may have 150 in a day. And if you’re a senior leader, for me, the litmus test I always told people was, if you talk to someone and they’re going to go home that night and tell their spouse about the conversation, then you’re a senior leader. And every comment you make to someone matters because if you’re, flip, or you’re tired, or you’re cranky or whatever, they’re going to go home and tell their spouse that. But if you’re positive and upbeat and do the kinds of things you want to do as a leader, they’re going to do that. And that’s what you want to be.

But your interactions are hard. I remember standing next to the hospital bed in the center and that young Afghan soldier had lost both legs. And guess what? He’s not going to get the kind of medical care there, that we give our veterans here. He gets pretty good medical care but then he goes back out into society. He doesn’t get the kind of prosthesis that we would give our forces because they can’t afford it. This kid asked me if he could, if we could get him legs so he could go back into the fight. So your personal interactions not only affect them, but if you’re human, they affect you.

Then there’s time and energy management, you’ve only got a certain amount. These are two brothers that worked for me for a number of years. This is their typical pose. There’s only so much of you, and you can’t create any more. You can’t drink energy drink and get three more hours out of the day. You can try that for a while, but pretty soon what you’ll find is you run out and the people around you fall down. So suddenly you got to do a couple things. One, you got to realize you’re human, and the second, you got to realize that people around you are human. And you got to take care of them just like you take care of yourself. Obviously I did a good job of them.

You’re going to work up and out as well. We all get very comfortable dealing with the people that work for us. Because they typically are going to be cheerier and more pleasant to us because we pay them or, we rate them or whatever. But you’re going to have to work up and out. In many cases, as you get more senior, the most important thing you do for the people below you is to work well with the people above you. And you owe it to them. You owe it to your bosses and your peers to keep them informed, to develop the kind of relationship. But every once in a while, you owe it to them to just reach up, and say hey, thanks, you’re doing a good job. And we think of that as being a sycophant, or sucking up. No, sometimes it’s just senior people supporting each other, because unless you’re not human, you’re going to need that.

People ask me, when do I lead by example? I’ll tell you you’re leading by example every moment of every day. Either a good example or a bad example, but you are. People watch everything you do. They don’t watch just when you’re up on stage giving the talk they watch everything else. If you double park your car out there when it’s not allowed, come in give a great talk, and then other people say that, that’s going to get out there and pretty soon it’s going to be that sucker who double parks. Hugely important.

The guy on the left, I was talking to a British NCO he’d just gone into the Helmand River valley December, 2009, had lost his brother a few months prior in Iraq when I was there. So, as you’re dealing with people like that, you’re showing them, not just that you care, but you’re showing you’re willing to be in helmet with them. You’re willing to be there when it’s late, when it’s dangerous, when it’s cold, whatever it is people don’t like, you’re willing to do that.

And then inclusion, what’s most important? I played junior varsity basketball when I was in high school at one point. And I was like the seventh guy on about a 10 or 12 man team. But he only played about six guys. So the whole year I got in a game one time, for about 20 seconds. I got a shot off and I hit it. I had the highest shooting percentage in the team. I haven’t gotten any phone calls asking me to the NBA, but, the funny thing about it is, when we drove to games I wasn’t excited, because I knew I wasn’t going to play. And when we won, I wasn’t excited or happy and when we lost I wasn’t upset. Because I wasn’t invested in it like I wanted to be. I wanted to be desperately. I wanted to have those feelings, but I didn’t.

Now think about it in your organization if you don’t share information if you don’t make people feel a part of it, are they going to celebrate the big win? I don’t think not unless they are different from what I was. It’s extraordinarily important to make people feel like they are part of the whole and there are a lot of ways you can do it. But the first thing is just tell them. Just bring them in. Just trust them. Just give them something.

And then the final is really leadership during crisis. If you haven’t had any crisis, hang on. They’re coming. You are going to face some. And the problem with the crisis is not that, it’s not like the movie where the crisis arises and you know exactly what to do. If that happens, it’s not a crisis. It’s the crisis when it arises and you go, holy smoke, this has never happened before. What do we do? And everybody looks at you. And that’s the first thing that happens. Everybody looks at you.

The picture in the center, this was when an American jet, at the request of a coalition force, dropped two bombs on some fuel trucks that’d been hijacked by the Taliban. The problem is they were surrounded by civilians, when they dropped them. And about 100 civilians were killed. Nobody tried to do the wrong thing. There’s no evil. But about 100 civilians were killed. So we suddenly had a crisis with the Afghan people. We had a crisis with the Afghan president. We had a crisis with the coalition partner who had dropped it because they were upset and they were worried about recriminations on themselves. We had levels of crises, so what do you do?

What I did was, the first thing I did was try to, across the force, communicate what’s the right thing. I called President Karzai, I went on TV and apologized to the Afghan people. I dealt with the Coalition Force as openly as I could, but I said we’re going to do the right thing here. We’re not going to try to hide it. We’re not going to try to shape that it wasn’t what it is, and the whole time you try to be the example because everybody’s watching how you respond. Everybody watches your body language, whether you’re calm, whether you’re not, and whether you operate from a moral compass that they want to believe in. Because as soon as they see you, cutting corners or shaving edges, your regard, even if you get away with it, is gone.

So this is what I came to believe, people ask me often whether leadership is something that’s born with or whether it’s taught. I think you can teach it, the biggest thing is people just have to make a decision to be a leader because the thing about leadership is it’s not that complex, but it’s really hard. I can tell you all the right answers to be a leader and you won’t write them down because you’ll know them all. But it’s like knowing the right answer to be in great physical shape or to be very well read or to speak six languages. The difference is just doing it. And that’s where our leadership falls.

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Thanks, and I’ll open it to your questions. Sir?

Question-and-answer session

Audience: Hi, my name is Vivek, I’m an MBA 1. I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned time and energy management. And I wanted to ask you about that in the context of your own personal routine. Some of us were talking before the talk. We’ve read that you only need four hours of rest each night, that you eat one meal a day so that you don’t feel sluggish, and that you run, depending on the accounts we read 8 or 10 or 12 miles a day. And we even, one of us read that you went running with David Petraeus a couple years ago and he learned that he wasn’t the fastest person at that army base. And so what I wanted to ask was, you know what advice did you give to your, the officers who worked for you and you would give for us even though most of us won’t be going into combat situations about staying fit and healthy and prepared to take on the task of leading. How we structure our days so that we don’t waste time and get the most out of every moment in each day?

Stanley McChrystal: That’s really great. First thing is you should hire my publicist who comes up with all that stuff. No, the reality isn’t, you know, be very, since I’m among friends here, I’ll be very honest. Yeah, I eat one meal a day, and that’s just because I do feel sluggish if I eat more than that. Now, that meal is a prodigious proportion. I describe it as anything I can reach until I fall asleep. So, it’s just a habit I got in many, many years ago, and so it’s just one of those things.

In terms of the amount of sleep, I slept about that, because that’s how much time I had. If I had more time, I’d be happy to sleep more. And I certainly, when I get the chance, I do. But I did find out that that’s about the balance that I needed to at that point to do the things I did. And so, what I tried to do was hit a balance that made me feel right. I got up early in the morning and worked out, because that was important for me to get the day going. Then I had some quiet time alone to work. Then I did most of the day I’d visit troops and all. And then in the evenings, I’d start to fade in energy. And so what I learned to do was put those things that don’t require analytical thought later in the day. I mean, guys would learn not, my staff would learn not to come to me for really good decisions at night. But I could sign stuff. I mean, I could do, you know, those kinds of things. I mean, you got to know your limitations.

But I also learned to have people around me that really understood. I was very transparent about my batter rhythm, my strengths and weaknesses, that could fill in the gaps but could also know when I’m best in the day. How much sleep I need. I had a certain guy I worked with that just was very protective of that. At times he’d say stop it, go to bed. You know, that sort of thing is important. I think all those things are really important on a couple levels. One, when you’re in an organization, people want to know that you are somebody that they have respect for. I think if your life is, if your health is in a shambles, if your finances are in a shambles, if your personal life is in a shambles, you’re not going to build as much confidence in them as if you got your act together. So, it’s just like, if they see you cheat on their tax, on your taxes and they wonder how you’re going to deal with them in a business sense, they’re going to do the comp, you know, the calculation. If he lies to the US government, he might lie to me, too. All those things matter. And I think you don’t need to make a big publicity about it. People will watch you enough to know whether you’re – but it’s not something just for you, you owe it to them.

Audience: Hi sir. Rob Simmons class of ‘98 C2. I’m here in the Ed school and thinking a lot about unit readiness, and how leaders assess their collective units. And especially under circumstances where they’re doing something new. Like a new product or a new development or in your case, you know new Afghan unit, getting ready to do something. And kind of what are the metrics and what are your thinking around that, that we could benefit from?

Stanley McChrystal: And I don’t know if you’ll benefit from Rob, thanks. The key thing about metrics is we tend to measure what’s easy to measure, and we tend to struggle with measuring the things that really tell us what we want to. What you’re trying to measure in the new organization is can it do what the new organization is, is designed for, and so until you get a chance to use it, you’re trying to create the analog of that and how many ways can you measure it? In military units we would measure how much equipment they had, how much, how many senior leaders, did they have the right number of people, did they have the right ranks, did they have the right amount of equipment. It tells you some stuff but it’s a predictor but it’s not any guarantee that that organization can function, and so obviously what I would do is, I would those basic ones are pretty empirical, I would then try to develop some test which tell me how they do. The first would be cohesion though. Does that organization, can it do stuff together? And so to a degree, even if the organization’s task was to do something you can’t measure. Let’s say if their task is to put out forest fires, but you can’t go light forest fires to check if they can do it, I’d go, well you can, but what I would do is, I would say, what do you really need to fight a forest fire. You need people that are pretty physically fit. You need people who understand the science of it and you need people who work together as a team.

And if I had to go find something that requires them to work together as a team, and maybe think a little bit in the process, I’d do that. Some physical things that – team sports I think would be very, very good. For more complex things in business, you’re on your own.

Audience: Thank you General for coming. My name is [Mubarak Guiman] and I’m curious about what actions do you think the US and Pakistan can take to make Pakistan a safer place?

Stanley McChrystal: That’s a great one. If you go back and you look at the history between the United States and Pakistan, of course Pakistan formed in 1947. It’s been uneven. There’s been a series of periods where Pakistan felt as though they were the better partner for America during the Cold War, during the 1980s when they were the conduit for support to the Mujahideen, during 1970 when the Henry Kissinger went through Pakistan in preparation for the China trip — it’s 71, I’m sorry. Preparation for the China trip that Nixon took. Pakistan felt like they had done more than America was doing in return. And then you have, it goes turnabout, and there are periods where America thinks that, that America’s doing more and Pakistan is supporting the Taliban or supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba or you name it. So this huge amount of mistrust, I think the most important thing we can do is, everybody step back and do a reset. People think what’s the most important part of our relationship with Pakistan and that’s Al Qaeda and I would argue it’s not. Al Qaeda matters. But if you look at Pakistan’s strategic interests, which are security from India in the region. It’s economy, it’s management of water which is a problem, it’s management of electricity. And the fact that Pakistan has never had a civilian to civilian government transfer. It’s always — was it, of 64 years of history, 32 have been military leadership, 32 have been civilian. What Pakistan needs is help shaping itself for its big, strategic challenges in the world, and I like to believe American can be a partner for that, because America benefits from the idea of Pakistan being what is it, 117 million people as a stable nation in that region. So I think we’ve got to raise the discussion a little bit higher to the strategic level. And we got to stop poking each other in the eye on some of the more tactical things.

There are different tactical objectives. But the biggest thing is trust. I mean, we are at this point now where the deficit of trust makes everything hard, and if we could work on one thing before we work on anything else it would just be trust over and over. I know it sounds simple, but it’s like leadership. Answer is simple, executing it’s really hard.

Audience: Hi, thank you so much for being here today, General McChrystal, my name’s Rachel Burleigh. I’m a Phd student in political science here and I actually had a little bit of a chance to observe some of your great work when I was at special operations through intensity conflict working on Afghan reconstruction under Colonel Dallas Brown. But I had a kind of more conceptual question to ask you, going back to one of the final themes of your presentation on the importance of cultural change. And so, I wanted to push you a little bit more on that and to say, when you’re thinking about cultural change that’s not just between individuals, so you’re not just talking about leading by example, but you’re really talking about kind of group level changes across groups that you can’t influence or interact with individually. How do you think you help to bring about reflection and really fundamental cultural change?

Stanley McChrystal: Yeah, great Rachel that’s tough. I really got Joe Felter here, you know more about it than I ever will. Joe ran the counterinsurgency advise and assist team in Afghanistan. I just listen to him, so that which went well, I get credit for. That which doesn’t, there’s a scapegoat. No, and that is a leadership maxim I would offer you all. The first thing you do in any endeavor is, designate a scapegoat. You know, make sure it’s not you. But, and it’s good if you tell them in advance.

No, cultural change is huge. And it’s easy for me to say. The problem with culture is they’re there for a reason. Look at the U.S. civil rights movement. When the case of giving all Americans their rights, it wasn’t just a case of okay, we’ll give everybody their rights. The problem is that comes at someone else’s expense. Whether it’s really them giving up money or something, no it’s giving up…Some people in the South perceived that they were going to lose their position in society if everybody had equal opportunity. And so you have this great, why should I buy into cultural change if my life’s going to be harder? Or my part of whatever it is I’m interested is going to be less? And you have to convince people that, one, it’s typically not a zero sum game. The place can be better, and I think over time people accept that, but near term they have a tough time with it. And you have to make a very cogent argument that says you won’t be effective otherwise. When we made the argument in Afghanistan to really focus on counter-insurgency, we didn’t get everybody together and say guys, this is the right thing to do because we love the Afghan people and we want to do the right thing. Even thought that was true, the argument was that we’ll lose if we don’t do this. This is the only way to succeed. And that’s interesting, because people drop back and they go, wow! Really? I say, yeah, absolutely.

And so then you can push cultural change if they think that’s what has to happen to move forward. You know the South had to change. The Mubarak regime, Egypt, had to change. But a lot of people, Syria has to change, but think about it now, there are a lot of groups in Syria for whom change will be cultural changes as well as political change. So they’re holding on very strongly, to be expected. So, you got to make that argument to them. But then you got to accept that there’s a group of people who are going to lose equities in the near term. And you have to — you kind of have to power through that. It’s not going to — most cultural change is not entirely voluntary on groups of people’s parts. As you know.

Thanks, Rachel.

Audience: General McChrystal, thank you so much for your 5service to this country and for being here today. My name is Coleen Mizuki and I’m a member of a nascent institute looking at innovative ways to help our veterans after their deployment to a combat zone. And very, I think importantly, I also volunteer to work with soldiers and family members in the reintegration process. So, you talked about leadership not being complex but not very hard, and I think that for me what underlines everything you’ve talked about in, say, counterinsurgency approach in Afghanistan, is mindset change. So I wonder if you have some words of wisdom that I can pass on to soldiers that I work with and helping them understand that after very difficult experiences in combat, how do I — how can they accept that mindset change is possible? That it’s not complex, but it’s also not very easy. Thank you.

Stanley McChrystal: That’s a great point. Thanks for what you’re doing. Yeah, mindset is extraordinarily important. What you do, why you did it, and what you did is important. And if you think about veterans, sometimes they don’t have a problem going. But when we ask someone to go into the military and go to war, what have we really asked them? You say, well, we’ve asked you to take a job, and do whatever. No, we’ve really asked them to believe. We’ve said, we’re asking you to push the I believe button in your nation, in your leadership, and the fact will take care of you. And it’s a huge leap of faith for a young person to go in the military and go forward to combat, because the nation says hey, we love you. They bought into that. They believed.

Now there’s the second part of it. I used to go around to battlefields and places in DC and what not and I’d see monuments. And I’d say, wow, this is a monument to the ego of the people who were there. They really just want their head patted for the fact they did that and what not. That’s not it at all. As I get older I realize, that’s the opposite of it. When you go to a monument like the World War II Veteran’s Memorial there in DC. What you really see is of the 8 million Americans who served in uniform and then all the families who were touched by it. You know, war is pretty ugly. When you’re up close to it, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel clean. It’s war. And it’s frustrating. It never comes out exactly like you want it to. But at the end of the day, what we’ve got to reassure people and what monuments do is they basically tell people, you did what we asked you to do. When the nation asked you to do something, you did that. You stood. You served. You sacrificed. Whatever it is we asked. And that’s what I think people are looking for, they’re looking for some reassurance that they did what was asked. When we go to veterans now what I think we’ve got to do particularly, these wars aren’t particularly popular. You know I’m not that excited about them. But I would tell you what we’ve got to do is convince the young people who suffer from different kinds of stress or physical injuries, hey, thanks, you did what we asked you to do. And that’s pretty darn good. And we don’t — that’s got to be totally separate from all the other things.

Let me thank everybody for being here today. I really appreciate it.


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