There’s been a slight dust-up over the inclusion of General Stanley McChrystal in TED, witnessed in some of the comments on his video at TED.com. At war abroad, General McChrystal was in the unenviable position of being forced to make daily life or death decisions which the rest of us will never have to consider in a lifetime. I do not necessarily agree with all of his choices but I humbly admit it is highly doubtful I could have done better.
In contrast, there are some aspects of the General’s career which I admire greatly. None so more than the intangible but, at least in his case, clearly defined quality of leadership. His ability to recognize the relevance of a generation of soldiers who have never lived in a world without instant connectivity to everyone else in the world is also nothing short of genius. His knowledge of modern communications and vision helped shape command and control and changed the way the military does business forever.
It’s worthy to mention I am also a man who is fearless about speaking up. What moves me to happiness is doing things right, not quietly agreeing with superiors too fearful, ignorant or filled with hubris to see the folly in their ways. Thus I am able to see why I am quick to dismiss negativity regarding the General’s record with civilian military leadership. As my own career progresses I am learning more and more about the power of leadership as opposed to management. I also believe, and have seen much evidence to support, leadership in business is more important than ever. I’ve had the opportunity to witness both in the men and women I have followed and there are some distinct differences. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
Strong leaders don’t bark orders. They create a shared sense of vision, purpose and responsibility. They work harder than anyone else around them but they do it quietly and without applause or a need for attention. Leaders don’t micromanage. They don’t complain or seek reassurance when they make mistakes. Leaders allow their subordinates to fail without being failures. They don’t need credit for the efforts of their organization and they are not afraid to allow their people to receive it. Modern leaders are keenly aware that trying to hide talent in the age of social networks and LinkedIn is a gross waste of time. Instead, they focus on taking care of their team. Leaders realize every member of their staff is an ambassador with equal access to the world via the internet and so they encourage a positive message.
21st Century leaders recognize the need for greater transparency and a willingness to listen. They are enthusiastic for the opportunity to be reverse-mentored from the ground up. They know the importance of strong personal relationships and conduct themselves accordingly with everyone on their team.