Leadership lessons from a networked organisation

Our models for value creation in business are increasingly being shaken up. Why? One could argue that the ‘transformation’ efforts of recent decades have been incremental, at best, and that Taylorism is alive and well in the modern-day corporation. In his book ‘Team of Teams’ McChystal suggests we’ve been ‘doing things right (efficiency), but not doing the right thing (effectiveness)’.

“Leaders are not good because they are right, leaders are good because they are willing to learn and to trust” – Stanley McChrystal

I am often thinking about how to create honest, explorative dialogue around topics such as this, topics of leadership, culture, purpose (individual, team and organisation), value creation, values, mindsets and any other dimension I believe can ultimately create more fulfilling lives for people inside large organisations. And for the last 18 months I’ve been hosting a monthly ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ lunch where we invite all levels and divisions of an organisation to watch a thought-provoking talk followed by a facilitated conversation. More recently I’ve been inviting senior executives to co-host the conversation which has been received very well, providing an opportunity for the executive to engage with the business in new and different ways.

In the most recent session we watched ‘Listen, learn..then lead’ by Stanley McChrystal. In his talk McChrystal shares his experiences transforming the entire model and culture for the US military and intelligence operations in the Middle East.

You can find the link to the talk at the bottom of this post.

Serving as Commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from 2003 to 2008, McChrystal was credited with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. McChrystal was reportedly known for saying and thinking what other military leaders were afraid to; this was one of the reasons cited for his appointment to lead all forces in Afghanistan.

McChrystal brought us on his journey into leadership before sharing his experiences of the dramatically changing environment we are in today – leading a dispersed workforce where you have to use everything you can, not just for communication but for leadership.

McChrystal talked about the challenge of building trust and faith amongst your organisation, without the ability to put a hand on a shoulder. He spoke of his mission to develop shared purpose and consciousness across his task force spanning multiple generations, skill sets and vocabularies.

He believes we’re experiencing an inversion of expertise driven by so many changes at the lower levels, meaning leaders have no first hand experience with the work, so how does a leader remain credible without that experience?

McChrystal suggests leaders must be a lot more transparent and a lot more willing to learn.. even to be mentored by those subordinate to them.

He spoke of relationships being the sinew that hold the force together. Of the promise they have to each other, ‘if you need me, I’m coming’, and suggested this promise is probably more powerful than marriage vows.. because they’ve lived up to it which gives it special power.

He’s learnt that to get that promise, you need to give it.

McChrystal closed saying “leaders are not good because they’re ‘right’, leaders are good because they’re willing to learn and to trust. It isn’t always easy or fair. You can get knocked down and it hurts but if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up and if you’re a leader, the people who count on you – need you on your feet.”

What stands out for you in this talk? How does it make you think about your organisational context?

Imagine a well facilitated conversation in your organisation based on McChrystal’s lessons in leadership. Imagine bringing together all levels and divisions of your organisation to have an honest explorative conversation on such a topic.

If you’re curious, what’s stopping you from creating such a forum? Beyond a meeting place with video projection there really isn’t much logistically.. Ask any questions about getting started in the comments and I’d love to hear about the conversations your having in this vein.

Let’s accelerate your success,

Nicolas Rivers.