Stanley McChrystal: Leadership is a Choice | Summary and Q&A

February 17, 2012
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Stanley McChrystal: Leadership is a Choice


General McChrystal discusses the importance of leadership and the need for cultural change in order to tackle the challenges faced by organizations today.

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Key Insights

  • 💦 Leadership is not complex, but it requires hard work and a willingness to change and adapt.
  • 💱 Cultural change is difficult, but it is important for organizations to stay relevant and succeed in a changing world.
  • 💱 Trust and transparency are essential for effective leadership and fostering cultural change.
  • 📈 Metrics and measurements may not capture the full scope of an organization's readiness or performance.


[SOUND] Joel 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 wanna 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 a... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What are some of the reasons why leadership in America is a cause for concern?

McChrystal suggests that the traditional leadership models that have been successful in the past may not be as effective in the current changing world. He also notes that there may be a lack of trust and a gap between what is expected of leaders and their actual performance.

Q: How can organizations foster cultural change?

McChrystal suggests that leaders need to make a compelling argument for change and show that it is necessary for the success of the organization. He also emphasizes the importance of trust and transparency in order to bring about cultural change.

Q: How can leaders effectively manage their time and energy?

McChrystal advises leaders to understand their own limitations and create a routine that works for them. He also emphasizes the importance of taking care of oneself and surrounding oneself with a team that can support and fill in the gaps.

Q: What can the US and Pakistan do to improve their relationship and make Pakistan a safer place?

McChrystal suggests that the US and Pakistan need to build trust and have open and honest communication. He also emphasizes the importance of understanding each other's strategic interests and finding common ground to work towards.


In this video, retired US Army general Stanley McChrystal discusses the concept of shared consciousness and purpose in leadership. He shares his experiences in the military and explains how leadership styles need to adapt to changing times and challenges. He emphasizes the importance of communication, teamwork, and effective decision-making in achieving success.

Questions & Answers

Q: What challenges do leaders face in today's world?

Leaders face challenges due to a changing environment where competition is global, communication is faster, and problems are more complex. These changes require leaders to be adaptable and to have a different approach to leadership than what has been traditionally rewarded in the past.

Q: How has the military adapted its leadership approach?

The military has had to evolve its leadership model based on the changing nature of warfare and the need to effectively combat new threats like terrorism. The development of Joint Special Operations Command and the creation of a team of teams approach allowed for more cohesive and effective operations.

Q: How does shared consciousness and purpose play a role in effective leadership?

Shared consciousness and purpose involve ensuring that everyone in an organization has access to the same information and understands the overall goal they are working towards. This allows for better decision-making and collaboration, as well as a sense of ownership and investment in the mission.

Q: How do leaders foster communication and collaboration within an organization?

Building a network of communication is important in fostering collaboration within an organization. It involves creating connectivity between different individuals and teams, as well as promoting open and transparent communication. Leaders should also prioritize and delegate tasks effectively to ensure that resources are properly allocated.

Q: How do leaders lead by example and exhibit good personal interactions?

Leaders have a significant impact on their team through their personal interactions. They should make an effort to show appreciation and thankfulness to their team members, as well as ensure they are approachable and open to communication. Leaders should also demonstrate personal discipline and prioritize their own well-being to set a good example for others.

Q: How do leaders adapt and lead during times of crisis?

During times of crisis, leaders need to remain calm and provide clear direction for their team. They should communicate openly and honestly, take responsibility for any mistakes, and work towards finding a solution. It is important for leaders to maintain a strong moral compass and act in the best interest of the organization and its stakeholders.

Q: How can leaders assess the readiness of their unit or organization?

Measuring readiness can be challenging, especially for new organizations or those tackling new tasks or projects. While metrics like equipment and personnel can provide some indication of readiness, it is also important to assess cohesion, teamwork, and the ability to perform tasks together. Leaders should create tests or simulations that mimic the desired tasks to evaluate readiness effectively.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • General McChrystal shares anecdotes from his personal and military experiences to highlight the importance of effective leadership.

  • He emphasizes the need for organizations to adapt and change in a rapidly evolving world, and how traditional leadership models may not be effective in today's complex and fast-paced environment.

  • McChrystal discusses the concept of shared consciousness and purpose as a way to build a cohesive and effective team.

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