Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership

At a glance, "Leadership" seems to be a vast and complex topic. Its been the foundation of thousands of studies, hundreds of thousands of articles and more than a few hours in classrooms from MBA's to Seminaries. Opinions on what leadership is, how to exercise it and how to "fix" it abound. In the words of General Stanley McChrystal - "'Leadership' was the single biggest reason organizations succeeded or failed."

At a glance, "Leadership" seems to be a vast and complex topic.  Its been the foundation of thousands of studies, hundreds of thousands of articles and more than a few hours in classrooms from MBA's to Seminaries.  Opinions on what leadership is, how to exercise it and how to "fix" it abound.

I recently finished reading "My Share of the Task: A Memoir" by General Stanely McChrystal (link to book at the bottom of this post).  Towards the end of the book, he summarized the lessons on leadership he had learned from his years in the military - most recently as the commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan.

This isn't a "political" post - I'm not commenting on the on-going war, the military, the US involvement over there... this is a series of posts on his comments regarding leadership - a topic I have studied for almost 30 years.

In his words:

"Leadership" was the single biggest reason organizations succeeded or failed.  It dwarfed numbers, technology, ideology, and historical forces in determining the outcome of events.  Take the best battalion and the worst.  "Switch just two people - the battalion commander and command sergeant major from the best battalion with those of the worst, and within ninety days the relative effectiveness of the battalions will have switched as well".

(I would provide page numbers, but e-readers make that seemingly impossible).

I spent the final year of my Masters program as the TA for Howard Hendricks.  One of his favorite sayings was "Everything rises and falls on leadership."   He was right.

In the upcoming weeks, I'm going to reflect on each of the main points General McChrystal makes in the closing chapter of his book.  He has some great insights!  Here are the topics:

  • Leadership is the art of influencing others.
  • Leaders take us where we'd otherwise not go.
  • Leaders can call to the best in us.
  • Leaders are empathetic.
  • Leaders are not necessarily popular.
  • The best leaders are genuine.
  • Leaders can be found at any rank and at any age.
  • Physical appearance, poise, outward self-confidence can be confused with leadership - for a time.
  • Leaders walk a fine line between self-confidence and humility.
  • People are born; leaders are made.
  • Leaders are people, and people constantly change.
  • Leaders make mistakes and the higher the leader, the most costly they usually are.
  • There are few secrets to leadership - more than anything it requires self-discipline.
  • In the end, leadership is a choice.

This should be a fun series!