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Leadership Lessons from the War on Terror: Boardroom or battlefield, the fundamentals don’t change. [VIDEO]


Retired US General Stanley McChrystal is what’s known in military jargon as a ‘four-star’, one of the highest rankings that an Army officer can achieve. (Douglas MacArthur, by comparison, made it to five stars.) When McChrystal served, only one other person in the US military outranked him, discounting the US President.

He’s a reasonably big deal in other words. His last posting in the military before retirement was the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, and Commander of US Military Forces, in Afghanistan. People tended to listen to him.

After many years in uniform, General/Mister McChrystal (I suspect he still gets ‘Sir’ a lot) is bound to have picked up a few tricks and truisms after many trials and tribulations as a professional leader.

One of the fast-growing areas of corporate intrigue, head-scratching and frustration is how best to lead and motivate a dispersed workforce that has a growing Gen Y membership.

Technology can often be viewed by the older echelons of Gen X and the Baby Boomers as a hindrance, or at best a distraction, to the real game of traditional work practices.

Many change management programs are devoted to the implementation of technology to better aid leadership, with varying degrees of sustained success.

In Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal had no choice but to use and rely upon technology to facilitate his leadership, mostly relegating his preferred method of a face-to-face meeting to the sidelines. Whatever your politics on the war in Afghanistan, there is no question that he was, and remains, a very successful leader.

So how’d he do it?

He listened. He learned. He trusted.

He addressed the possibilities of failure openly.

Watch this TED talk to gain more of General McChrystal’s insight into the realities of modern leadership. Boardroom or battlefield, you’ll soon see that some things remain the same regardless of the setting.

General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.) at TED

Chris Walter is a leadership development trainer at Qimota Training, and an invited facilitator at the Royal Australian Navy’s leadership and ethics program.

An earlier version of this article first appeared at the Qimota Training website.