Leadership Wisdom From Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal
I am a HUGE supporter of our military! I praise God for our men and women who fight day after day to keep us safe. And while I bite my tongue when I hear people make a lot of comments… not so much when they say something about our troops. If I’m having a bad day, I try to think of what they are going through. My “PTSD” from Starbucks not making my coffee correctly just doesn’t seem to compare.
Not only do I love our troops, but I love to learn leadership wisdom from its officers and senior officers. Recently, I watched General Stanley A. McChrystal’s TED Talk, “Listen, learn…then lead.” It’s a fantastic talk, and I wanted to share a couple of nuggets that I got out of it with you. In fact, it might take me another post to do it because it’s a lot to unpack.
General McChrystal started off talking about how–about 10 years ago–he was doing a routine parachute jump… just like he had for the last 27 years. It was a nice Tuesday morning in September. They began with a refresher course, then put on their parachutes with a buddy being very careful to pull all the straps together. Then a jump master comes by to recheck everything and crank down the straps even tighter. It’s painful enough that the General believes it’s designed this way so you want to jump!
The jumpers all hooked up to the static line. This is the point where they realize there’s probably no getting out of this… “We’re jumping today.” Then the green light comes on, and they all “fall,” one-by-one, out of the plane. Soon, the parachute deploys to slow the rate of their descent to the ground. But–make no mistake–with tons of gear on, and a parachute that doesn’t steer, there’s no delicate way to land.
General McChrystal hit the ground, rolled around, then made sure he didn’t break anything he needed. That’s when he asked himself the eternal question, “Why didn’t I go into banking?” As he jumped up, he looked around and saw young paratroopers pulling out the equipment they needed, putting away the stuff they didn’t need, and realized they were doing exactly what they were trained to do.
In that moment, General McChrystal had a revelation: if the paratroopers went into battle, they would do exactly what leadership trained them to do. And if they came out of battle, it would be BECAUSE leadership trained them well. That Tuesday morning… September 11, 2001… when they boarded the plane, the world was right. But when they hit the ground that day, the world had changed.
What amazes me is that every day our troops are trained by their leaders not only to survive battle, but to succeed and come out alive! Every day! Now that shows leadership wisdom in my opinion!
As leaders, what are we doing to make sure our “troops” are completely trained? And not just trained, but taken through refresher courses as well? I, as a leader, have to understand that my team goes through battles. And while they don’t come out with the physical scars, many times they come out with mental and emotional ones.
Over and over, I say that it is your job as a leader to make your team successful. Well, let me add to that: it’s your job to make sure your team is redundantly ready for battle! And to the extent that you have led them correctly for it, great job. If you have put them out there without spending your time training them, then don’t be surprised if you end up with a severely wounded team. Don’t just hope your team is able… make sure. It could be the difference between life and death. Even in business.