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McChrystal examines leadership

Speaking Thursday afternoon at the Cemex Auditorium in the Graduate School of Business (GSB), four-star General Stanley McChrystal said that the United States has struggled to find answers to global and national issues not because the country has gotten lazy or selfish, but because it has continued to apply an outdated model of leadership instead of adapting to the changing times.


McChrystal’s talk was part of the lecture series “View from the Top,” a student-run program that brings prominent figures to campus to share their insights on effective leadership.


“He prefers to be called Stan, although I recommend you call him General McChrystal,” joked Joel Peterson, director of the Center for Leadership Development and Researchat the GSB when he introduced McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, to a capacity-filled audience of more than 600.

United States General Stanley McChrystal, former leader of the Joint Special Operations Command, spoke about leadership strategy Thursday afternoon. The event was held at the GSB. (NATASHA WEASER/The Stanford Daily)


“He is known for creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence and operations,” Peterson added, referring to McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq.


McChrystal’s leadership of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s most sensitive forces, is credited with the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein and the June 2006 locating and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.


President Obama’s Dec. 2009 order to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was based on McChrystal’s assessment of the war.


McChrystal’s speech focused on leadership strategy rather than solely foreign policy, although he did share anecdotes from his military career throughout the speech.


Citing New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat,” McChrystal warned of increasing competition between nations worldwide.


“You have to lead and learn and adapt or die,” McChrystal said.  “At the heart of this is effective communication.”


McChrystal also laid out his key leadership intangibles, which included managing time and energy, working to form relationships and leading by example.


“When you are a leader, people watch everything that you do,” McChrystal said. “You have to operate with a moral compass that people believe in.”


He concluded with the statement that “leadership is not a talent or a gift, it’s a choice.”


After McChrystal’s speech, audience members posed questions ranging from the welfare of veterans to democracy movements in the Middle East to McChrystal’s famed daily routine, which consists of one meal a day and four hours of sleep.


In response to a question raised about the nature of the sensitive relationship between the United States and Pakistan, McChrystal responded by highlighting the importance and difficulty of building trust between the two nations.


“There is a deficit of trust [between the United States and Pakistan],” McChrystal said, “But I believe Pakistan has strategic interests that I believe the U.S. can help shape.”


McChrystal spoke to The Daily after the event, saying, “I am incredibly honored to be here and I am happy with the great amount of interest shown today.”


Stephen Cobbe ‘15, who attended the speech and whose father served with McChrystal in Afghanistan, said, “It was so incredibly inspiring and only reaffirmed my plans to join the military in the future.”


McChrystal retired from the military in August 2010, after making critical comments of the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone article. He currently teaches a leadership seminar at Yale University.

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