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Watch > Episode > Stanley McChrystal - How To Lead

Stanley McChrystal - How To Lead


General Stanley McChrystal, the former four star general who served for thirty-four years in the US Army. In 2003 he was directly involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In 2006 his forces were responsible for the death of the Al-Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi. And in 2009, he took command of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Following his public retirement in 2010, he became a senior fellow at Yale University and co-founded the McChrystal Group. In his new book “Leaders, Myth & Reality”, he explores what leadership really means, debunking the many myths and I am excited to welcome him to London Real in what promises to be a milestone interview.

Stanley McChrystal’s journey into the military commenced at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1976. His early military career included a range of assignments, showcasing his versatility and leadership potential. Over the years, McChrystal excelled in various roles, distinguishing himself as a capable and innovative military officer.

McChrystal’s career took a significant turn when he became involved in special operations and counterterrorism efforts. His expertise in these areas led to his appointment as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in 2003. Under his leadership, JSOC played a crucial role in targeting and eliminating high-profile individuals associated with terrorist networks, making significant contributions to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

One of the notable successes during McChrystal’s tenure at JSOC was the operation that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, in December 2003. These operations showcased McChrystal’s ability to lead highly specialised and effective military units in complex and covert missions.

In 2009, General McChrystal took on a new and challenging role as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Tasked with overseeing the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan, McChrystal faced the daunting task of navigating a complex and protracted conflict.

McChrystal’s approach in Afghanistan focused on a comprehensive strategy that included not only military operations but also efforts to build local governance, promote economic development, and enhance the capacity of Afghan security forces. His leadership style emphasised adaptability and collaboration with international partners, reflecting a holistic understanding of the challenges on the ground.

After retiring from the military, McChrystal continued to contribute to leadership development, strategic thinking, and national security through various channels. He co-founded the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm, where he applies the lessons learned from his military and post-military experiences to help organisations navigate complexity and enhance their leadership capabilities.

Additionally, McChrystal has authored numerous books, including “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,” where he explores the concept of adaptability in leadership and organisational structures.

General Stanley McChrystal’s legacy extends beyond his military achievements. His willingness to confront challenges head-on, adapt to evolving circumstances, and openly address the complexities of leadership has positioned him as a thought leader in both military and civilian spheres. McChrystal’s insights into the changing nature of warfare and the demands placed on leaders in complex environments continue to shape discussions on leadership and strategy.

General Stanley McChrystal’s career exemplifies not only military excellence but also a commitment to ongoing learning and evolution as a leader. From his early days in special operations to the challenges faced in Afghanistan and his post-military contributions, McChrystal has left an enduring mark on the understanding of leadership in the face of complexity and uncertainty.


00:00 | Trailer
03:15 Brian’s thoughts on the episode
05:37 Brian’s introduction
06:14 London from a military perspective,07:41 Stan learned of leadership and team management skills from early love of naval history
08;35 The myths and realities of Horatio Nelson’s captaincy and leadership in battle
11:00 Past heroic leaders were flawed men, thus encouragingly, many more of us are capable of leadership
13:01 Stan explains what he meant by “I don’t even remember events in my own leadership correctly”
16:10 West Point in the 1970s
19:20 A leader’s daily habits and intentional discipline confirm their team’s faith in them when observed daily21:06 Why Stan found Special Forces a disappointment and got fired
25:22 Learning to combine his military role with political and intelligence agency agendas
32:55 Building relationships with Washington D
when working in the field of war
37:19 Resistance to fundamental change in operational methodology required to deal with Al Qaeda in Iraq
42:36 Explaining collateral damage to the civilian public and justifying it to himself
44:14 Why the abuse of Iraqi detainees occurred in Abu Ghraib prison and why he took responsibility
49:27 Torture is effective, people will talk, however, he showed The Battle of Algiers to Force leaders
54:04 Stan appointed to take charge in Afghanistan in midst of new President Obama administration conflict
1:03:01 Stan reflects on the aftermath of the Rolling Stones article and his subsequent resignation,1:09:11 How Stan deals with the periodic times when his brain recalls what went wrong
1:12:07 The McChrystal Group and writing ‘Leaders, Myth, and Reality,’1:17:17 Good leadership leads to everyone working to solve the problem not working to execute directives
1:19:42 The book investigates the leadership style of historical leaders in different genres
1:25:39 The American people desperately need to look in the mirror now about leadership and their role in it
1:27:14 Stan’s daily habit which is non-negotiable
1:28:11 What his friends would say was his superpower
1:29:46 Worst and best days of his life
1:31:15 Two very topical scenarios that scare him
1:34:18 Something that may surprise you about Stan, it surprised him
1:36:00 Phone call to the twenty years old Stanley McChrystal
1:37:27 Best advice ever received
1:40:07 Success Secrets
1:40:44 Brian’s summing up.


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