Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, credited with the death of Iraq’s Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was recently interviewed by Inc. Magazine. He discussed what business leaders can learn from the military. McChrystal is known for speaking his mind (which may have cost him his job). I admire the man for his honesty, despite the consequences.Here are 3 comments from the interview and my take on them:
1. Let your guard down strategically.
When asked why he was photographed not wearing body armor, McChrystal said he generally didn’t wear armor on the streets in Afghanistan, because Afghans wouldn’t think he’s a brave man. McChrystal said, It was not only a subtle tactic to bridge a culture gap, it was also a way to send his troops a message. “I was asking people to go out and risk their lives,” he said. “You can’t say one thing and then keep yourself in a hermetically sealed armored bubble.”
My take: When you run a business, be prepared to get out of your office and do any job you would ask your staff to do — from sweeping floors to making cold calls. If not, you run the risk of being perceived as a pretender who’s not really on the team at all.
2. Communication should be your top priority.
McChrystal spent his commander’s discretionary fund, not on guns, but on purchasing bandwidth so that all in his network could communicate with each other. McChrystal said he did this because he believes information must run both ways to create a free-flow of honest communication. He agrees it’s not easy, as noted by his comment: “You’ll find that things like a cubicle wall or a walk across the street can be as wide as an ocean was 100 years ago.”
My take: It’s important to share information, to chat with the troops, to arrange an impromptu meeting and talk honestly about how business is going. You may leave yourself open to criticism from the team, but, on the other hand, you create honest dialog.
3. Use Commander’s Intent—especially in times of crisis.
The idea of clearly expressing your vision of an end result is known as Commander’s Intent. And in a time of strain or uncertainty, McChrystal says it’s crucial. “This sounds simple, but if you really go into most organizations and ask what winning is going to look like, [managers each] have different ideas,” McChrystal says.
My take: World-wide, business is in an economic crisis. To survive, management has to create and communicate a unified plan of how we plan to overcome it. The plan may not be popular with the troops; it may even backfire. But it takes away the uncertainty employees have of who’s running the ship and how we plan to prevent it from going under.
Today the most successful businesses work on the basis of two often used military terms: Strategy and Tactic. Without a sound strategy and wise tactics the strongest businesses will fail.