General Stanley McChrystal (@StanMcChrystal) is a retired four-star general, founder of McChrystal Group, and co-author of Leaders: Myth and Reality.

What We Discuss with General Stanley McChrystal:

  • What General McChrystal learned by reexamining one of his most controversial personal heroes.
  • The counterintuitive ability of leaders who value their own mission over the lives of the people who work for them to attract talent.
  • How writing his memoirs without the aid of a journal — but the memories of others who were with him throughout his life — put his own role as a leader into perspective.
  • Why there’s no single leadership style that’s right for all leaders, and what potential leaders risk by trying to emulate styles that don’t suit them.
  • The danger of these three common myths of leadership — formulaic, attribution, and results — and how to dispel them.
  • And much more…

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Leaders get things done. And whether we’re leaders ourselves or simply rely on the guidance of leaders to help us achieve the extraordinary, we probably have ideas about what qualities are essential within a great leader. And a lot of these ideas are just plain wrong. They’re myths.

Leaders: Myth and Reality co-author General Stanley McChrystal joins the show to help us understand the danger of these myths, how to dispel them, and why the imagined deeds of even our most inspiring heroes are not sacrosanct beyond the scrutiny of hard reality. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

For 40 years, General Stanley McChrystal proudly displayed a portrait of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on his office wall. Lee had been a personal hero since boyhood as an example of everything leadership should look like, and had inspired nearly every footstep of General McChrystal’s path.

But in recent years, as white supremacists rally behind the memory of Lee and other Confederate leaders as their own kind of heroes — seen most prominently in Charlottesville in 2017 — it was time to reexamine Lee’s revered place in his life.

As General McChrystal recounts: “My wife told me, ‘You should get rid of that picture.’ And I said, ‘Well, I can’t because you gave it to me and I love it and Robert E. Lee’s a hero of mine.’ She said, ‘I don’t think it means to other people what it does to you. I think it symbolizes to other people something that you don’t believe in…you’ve got to be careful about what kind of unintentional message you send.’

“So we went back and forth for about a month, and I did more study. And I thought long and hard about it. And I came to the conclusion that she was absolutely right. And so at age 63, after having this picture for 40 years, I took it off my wall and threw it in the trash.”

Still, as General McChrystal and his co-authors were formulating what would become their latest book, Leaders: Myth and Reality, he knew he’d have to address his former adoration for Lee and separate the facts from the much publicized fictions that had grown around this controversial leader since the Civil War.

“As we studied [him] more, it gave me the chance to really think more deeply about what Robert E. Lee represents,” says General McChrystal. “Because at West Point, he represented leadership and excellence and loyalty. But as you think it further, here’s a guy who was an extraordinarily talented leader, but then at the crucial moment of his life, he makes a decision to betray his country, to try to destroy that country, and do it in defense of slavery, the biggest evil in American history.

“And no matter how you try to say, ‘No, no, he was just loyal,’ no. He made a decision that can’t be cleaned up through any lens of history. And so in reality, I don’t think he was an evil person, but I think he made an extraordinarily bad decision — and I think that’s a cautionary tale for all of us. Not only for what we should do in our lives, but also for how we should view leaders.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the effectiveness of leaders who are famously hard to work for (like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Coco Chanel), why anyone would want to work for someone who values their own mission over the lives of the people who work for them, what General McChrystal learned about his own role as a leader by interviewing outside observers for his memoirs, why one leadership style doesn’t fit all, three dangerous myths of leadership and how to dispel them, the no-nonsense advice General McChrystal has for people who want to know how to be “more like him,” what it takes to lead under pressure, and lots more.


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