In order to be a great leader you have to be agile and open. Those are two things that don’t lend themselves naturally to the Defense Department. The DoD is known for it’s hierarchical culture, but that is changing, because the nature of war is changing. Now the DOD is facing opponents without borders or states.
General Stanley McChrystal addressed these and more issues during his keynote presentation at FOSE.
General McChrystal was formerly the Commander of International Security Assistance Force as well the United States Forces in Afghanistan. General McChrystal has also commanded the Joint Special Operations Command and the 75th Ranger Regiment. He recently retired from the US Army, and is now a Senior Fellow at Yale as well as an author.
General McChrystal told the crowd at FOSE that the intelligence community was forced to evolve after 9/11. “We faced a challenge we had never seen before, we didn’t have the right equipment, the right mentality, the right physical training.”
“After 9/11 the sea on which we operated changed because instead of predictable or finite terrorist groups we had Al-Qaeda. It is tough to get your mind around the fact that they were not geographically grounded and had very broad aims. It was constantly evolving. When we first entered the war we thought of their organization as a hierarchical. We went after the top two in charge. But they never got the memo that that’s how they were supposed to operate. They were in this lose association, a network. It made them extraordinary adoptable and resilient.”
How to target a foe without a blueprint?
“Our charter said respond to terrorist attacks. When Al-Qaeda hijacked planes they didn’t demand anything, they basically said how do you like that. So now if you wait to respond you respond to wreckage and dead bodies. You have to develop a strategy to preempt,” said McChrystal.
Key to Success is Collaboration
“You have to get people to share the problem with. We went after an inter-agency taskforce. In late 2003, it was my approach, I built a big tent to assemble everyone in and for a time I thought I was a genius. But each part of the tent brought different structures, approaches, cultures, objectives – so just putting everyone in the same space didn’t solve the problem. I had to lead by influence, because most of the people there were on loan from their agency, so I couldn’t hire, fire or incentivize them,” said McChrystal.
“You can separate military, business and government anymore. It is all interconnected so the more people we can get to see and understand the problem the better. We had to operate under a model of shared consciousness and purpose.”
Get Rid of Hierarchical Systems
“It seems obvious but it is much harder than it seems. The only way to deal was to let go of the hierarchy. The mantra become it takes a network to defeat a network like Al-Qaeda. But when you get rid of a hierarchal system you have to also let go of control and the ability to limit what people have access to. But you gain speed and decentralization. We had to be decentralized because we were fighting in 27 different places at once. One fight linked together but each local had to be different enough to adapt to things on the ground. The ability to develop networks that could gather information and help turn that into understanding and then translate that understanding into action was key.”
In order to facilitate that collaboration McChrystal set up a new staffing seating arrangement that forced people from different departments and agencies to work together.
Leaders don’t have a look, all leaders have these things in common:
- Leaders will deal with evolving challenges.
- Leaders are going to have to adapt to those challenges.
- Leaders will have to deal with the human factor.
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