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Obama and General McChrystal: A Leadership Lesson Learned the Hard Way

June 25, 2010

In an episode titled, “The Economist,” Lost’s Sayid Jarrah states, “Everyone has a boss.”  It’s a point General Stanley McChrystal seemed to forget when he gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine that sent shockwaves through the armed forces and the White House this week.  The article reveals McChrystal’s bullying of President Obama, scathing comments about Vice President Joe Biden and undermining of Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.  In the end, the General left Obama with little choice but to fire him, saying:

…the conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.  It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system, and it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

Obama’s words were not chosen in vain.  A great leader is one who treats not only those below him with respect, but those above him as well.  As an example to those under your command, you inevitably demonstrate to your subordinates how they should treat you with your own behavior towards your boss.  By publicly displaying such disdain for his leaders, McChrystal rendered himself ineffectual as a leader by inspiring others to inappropriately break with their superiors.  Quelling this type of inappropriate dissent is considered especially important when dealing with the life-or-death situations faced in military situations like Afghanistan.  Since “everyone has a boss,” whether they are on the battlefield or not, this is one lesson every leader should take care to remember.

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