3 Primary Reasons President Obama Had to Relieve General McChrystal

From the on-going BP Oil spill fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico to this week’s Rolling Stone article on U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal current events never fail to give us fodder to teach leadership. Which, I guess, in my field is a good thing.

After reading the Rolling Stone article last night for myself I believe the General McChrystal situation gives us an opportunity to look at these 3 leadership issues:

  • Leadership Traits
  • Leadership Decision-Making
  • Creating/Undermining Trust in the Workplace

I will address those in future blog posts but first want to address what I believe there are three key reasons why President Obama made the right decision.

From a leadership perspective (not political, in writing this I am making no political statement about whether I agree or disagree with the political direction of the country at the moment).

I’m also pleased President Obama did it rapidly and decisively, which has been counter to his decision-making approach in the past.

The three reasons for the prompt dismissal of General McChrystal include:

  • He aired the disagreements and personality conflicts he had with both his superiors and peers in public. Comments directly attributed to him about the President were relatively innocuous. But his comments, and those of his team members, about their other superiors (Vice President Biden) and his peers were inappropriate, undermined their authority and destroyed whatever trust may have been left between them.
  • He allowed an outsider (and a media professional, to boot) to participate in what should have been closed, staff/team activities (at best! In my estimation the type of activities engaged in were completely inappropriate for a leader of his stature. You don’t go partying to the point of intoxication with your subordinates, ever!).
  • He showed total lack of respect for his position as leader and representative of the U.S. and the U.S. Military while in a foreign country and spoke, or allowed his team members to speak, in derogatory language about one of our few remaining allies in this initiative.

Although most of the quotes in the article were attributed to members of McChrystal’s team, individuals at that level do not and will not speak publicly in that manner without the leader setting a tone previously.

It’s my belief that although McChrystal wasn’t quoted directly much of the derogatory comments about his superiors and peers came from others and most likely were not the first time those opinions had been expressed. Thus, McChrystal had to have known about those attitudes and opinions from those in his inner circle and may have even expressed them himself at times.

By doing so it created a culture where his team members felt it was appropriate to speak openly in that manner (and then the alcohol kicked in and inhibitions dropped causing a perfect storm for reporter Michael Hastings).

The situation is really a shame as the article pointed out other very positive leadership traits we can also attribute to McChrystal.

The one I was particularly impressed with was his direct response to soldiers in the field regarding the application of the counter-insurgency strategy and the guidelines he set forth that the soldiers felt were hurting their chances for success and putting them in harm’s way.

McChrystal didn’t hide behind a desk, he addressed their concerns directly and even met, and marched, with them in their world. At the end of the day the soldiers may not have agreed with his policies but at least they were allowed to address him directly and get their questions and concerns answered.

Only time will tell how this military action in the middle east will play itself out. Unfortunately for the U.S., its allies and the innocent civilians of Afghanistan and Iraq it will not be resolved any time soon. Good luck and Godspeed to General David Petraeus.

For other resources in positive and powerful leadership traits you may want to read this article “The 5 Traits of CHAMP Leader.”

And for specific lessons, techniques and strategies to become a more effective leader I recommend visiting this page which explains how “The Leadership Series” can make you a better leader.

‘Til next time, make it a great day!