Stanley McChrystal is a four-star general and former commander of the U.S. and International forces in Afghanistan. His leadership over the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein.
After 9/11, McChrystal faced entirely new challenges as a leader. He spent six years serving in Afghanistan, but the forces he oversaw were deployed in multiple locations. He had to find new ways of building trust with his teams without the ability to "put a hand on a shoulder." In his TED Talk, McChrystal discusses some of the lessons he learned about being an effective leader from the military.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk:
"Leaders can let you fail and not let you be a failure."
McChrystal explains that one day the company he commanded failed terribly at a simulated "dawn attack" drill. When he and his company had finished with the evaluation, he headed towards his battalion commander to apologize for the performance. Instead, his commander commended him on a job well done.
"In one sentence he lifted me and put me back on my feet," McChrystal says.
The moment taught him that good leaders give their teams the encouragement they need to continue forward after adversity and disappointment. Building a culture where failure is accepted allows everyone to learn from their mistakes and improve performance the next time around.
"[As a leader], you're building a sense of shared purpose."
In his post-9/11 service in Afghanistan, McChrystal saw a shift in the diversity of the teams he was leading. The age difference was the most striking to him. McChrystal was reminded that these differences in experiences, while valuable, made it even more crucial for his teams to operate under a "shared purpose and shared consciousness."
"How does a leader stay credible and legitimate when they haven't done what the people they're leading are doing?"
Along with new faces, the technology and tools McChrystal used in the field had changed by the time he was a commander. "Suddenly, the things we grew up doing weren't what the force was doing anymore," he says.
It created what McChrystal calls an "inversion of expertise." This is a common challenge that leaders face. The people they lead know more about the work and systems they're using than the managers themselves. These changes forced McChrystal to be transparent and listen to his teams. He allowed himself to be reverse mentored from those who ranked below him to evolve as the most efficient leader possible.