Archive for September 3rd, 2010

Communicating the Story

mccrystalI’d Like to Audit This Course

Gen. Stanley McCrystal, the fellow Barack Obama fired earlier this year as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is lecturing at Yale this fall. McCrystal’s syllabus was published by the Yale Daily News and I’ve got to say it looks pretty interesting.

The General, who will draw on his lengthy military career for the seminar entitled “Leadership in Operation,” will lead off on September 7th with a lecture on “The Importance of Leading Differently.”

The notes on the seminar say the session will involve, “A description of how changes in our operating environment over the 34 years of my service have demanded changes in how organizations operate – and how leaders lead them. For the military, focus often falls too narrowly – on technological advances in weaponry and armor. But like most organizations, truly significant changes in technology, politics, media, and society overall have driven change to almost every aspect of leading. Increasingly, the product of a failure to change – is failure.”

McCrystal will focus on four “case studies” in his first lecture – his own career, the decision to invade Iraq in 2002 and 2003, the American Civil War and German military strategy during World War II.

Toward the end of the semester, McCrystal will lecture on “Communicating the Story – the Media Environment.” That should be good. The General’s downfall came, of course, after Rolling Stone published an incendiary article that featured on the record quotes from McCrystal and several members of his staff sharply questioned the ability and smarts of the President and his national security team.

I have often believed that our society really has only one true meritocracy; an institution were individuals, in the vast majority of cases, advance on the basis of merit, wisdom and drive. The American meritocracy is the U.S. military. You don’t get to wear four stars without knowing a few things about leadership, history, politics and human nature. The proof of the modern military’s approach to merit and responsibility is Gen. McCrystal. He screwed up and lost his job. End of story. Not so in any other field of endeavor in American society.

There are exceptions, of course, to the military merit story line and the U.S. military, obviously, hasn’t always been a place where merit wins out. William Westmoreland and George Custer come to mind. Still, day-in and day-out, I’d put the military’s merit selection up against our political selection process, as well as against corporate America and even the academy.

It is very interesting that McCrystal, at least for the time being, has taken a pass on the post-military life of many retired officers. He appears not to be interested in the opportunities he surely could have to consult for a defense contractor or become a talking head pundit on cable television. Instead he’ll lecture at Yale.

It would be fascinating to listen in on those seminars.