Affirmation from others is fickle and fleeting. If you want to make an impact during your lifetime, you have to trade the praise you could receive from others for the things of value that you can accomplish. You can’t be ‘one of the boys’ and follow your destiny at the same time.
Since the recent dustup over the resignation and replacement of General Stanley McChrystal, I ventured out to the local bookstore to pick up the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine to read for myself the story that took down a top general in war time and what possible lessons can be learned.
I am not a political pundit, but I am an observer of current events, and a student of history and leaders. The insights Michael Hastings offered into the life of McChrystal and his inner circle were compelling and in the big picture showcase a set of struggles that all leaders at some time or another must come to grips with.
Whether navigating the waters of leadership on the battle fields of Afghanistan or your business on Main Street, the leadership challenges you face will either strengthen you or handicap you moving forward. What are those struggles and how should they be addressed?
First - the struggle for your principles and the challenge of superiors. For a General with the temperament of McChrystal, bureaucracy and politics are hurdles to accomplishment. “The son of a general, McChrystal was also a ringleader of the campus dissidents,” writes Hasting, adding, “a dual role that taught him how to thrive in a rigid, top-down environment while thumbing his nose at authority every chance he got.”
For some leaders, there is a fine line between loyalty to those in the command above you and remaining true to self in the process. As a leader, this need not be an either-or proposition. Edwin R. Murrow said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” Being true to self is the ultimate display of loyalty to those above you.
Second – the struggle for your strategy and vision and the challenge for temperance. Hastings writes of McChrystal, “Growing up as a military brat, McChrystal exhibited the mixture of brilliance and cockiness that would follow him throughout his career.” It is a struggle many leaders face and find difficult to master. Articulating a vision and plan for the future direction of your organization might make sense to you, but winning the hearts and minds of others may take a while.
A Dutch Proverb says, “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” When executing the vision for your company or personnel, a leader too far ahead of the team runs the risk of walking alone. A wise leader will patiently lead them and bring the entire team to victory.
Finally –the struggle of your team and the challenge for authority. When McChrystal was challenged by the men who disagreed with his rules of engagement, Hastings writes that McChrystal told them, “Strength is leading when you just don’t want to lead, you’re leading by example. That’s what we do. Particularly when it’s really, really hard, and it hurts inside.”
Leaders understand that change is never easy and that it is a slow moving ship. Rather than scold the men for their line of questioning or concern, McChrystal confronted it head-on. A confident leader welcomes input, listens to concerns, and provides what he believes are the best options for success.
Leadership is full of rewards and struggles; it comes with the territory. I do not believe that McChrystal’s resignation, while a blemish on his record, should diminish his otherwise patriotic service and devotion to his country.
Important to understand is what Warren Bennis meant when he said, “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.”
The leadership struggles you face today are making you the leader you are destined to become tomorrow. Don’t shy from the struggle, instead embrace it, and in doing so, you are a step closer to success.
© 2010 Doug Dickerson