General Stanley McChrystal has caused quite a stir. While I am not going to pass judgement on his actions or statements in the Rolling Stone article, this has provided a unique leadership lesson for me personally.
Let me start with a caveat: I cannot begin to fathom the level of leadership and responsibility that the General has. He holds, in his hands, life and death decisions of the troops he commands. In my thoughts below, I only intend to learn from this event but not even try to compare my insignificant trials and tribulations to what the General faces each and everyday.
A leader has the sworn duty to inform his superiors with the facts, present them with viable solutions, and fight to take care of his people. He or she has every right to challenge orders and make sure that their leadership understands the implications of their decisions. All of this should happen in private, in confidence, and in trust.
But at the end of the day, he/she has the responsibility of upholding and implementing the decisions of leadership, to the best of their ability, and with the resources they have available. And above all, they should never undermine their leaders in public and especially not to his/her subordinates and team. This is a well understood standard and unspoken military code.
I am guilty of not upholding that standard and I have broken that code. And General McChrystal’s situation has been a much needed wake up call for me.
My program has faced a lot of challenges over the past few years: budget cuts, personnel cuts, changes in organization, etc. Its been my biggest leadership challenge, to say the least. But in my frustration, I have openly questioned my leadership and their intentions when I really should have kept my thoughts to myself. That is something that I will now fix.
You may not always agree with your leadership’s decisions. You may think they don’t know what they are doing. But in reality, they probably know better than you give them credit for. They have to account for issues that you may know nothing about.
Keep your leaders informed and make sure they make the best decision they can. And above all, do your best to support them and not undermine their leadership. Because before you know it, you’ll be that senior leader, making those tough decisions, and hoping that your subordinates trust you enough to know you won’t lead them astray.
Thanks to One Fine Jay for bringing this article to my attention.
Photo found via Flickr.