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McChrystal addresses NGA workforce

By Nancy McGillicuddy, Office of Corporate Communications

SPRINGFIELD, Va. – Leaders must adapt or they will fail, said retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal as he kicked off the inaugural NGA Director’s Distinguished Speaker Series here Oct. 28.

During an hourlong visual presentation, McChrystal told personal anecdotes and shared his philosophy of leadership with the audience at NGA’s William Allder Auditorium.

“Adapting is what we do,” he said. “If we don’t do it, we have big problems.”

McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Forces, or ISAF, in Afghanistan, used 9/11 as an example of the need to adapt. In the past, terrorists had hijacked airplanes and made demands, he said.

“Al-Qaeda didn’t do that. They hijacked planes, flew them into buildings and didn’t ask for anything,” he said.
The Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had to fight the new tactics with a new strategy, said McChrystal, the unit’s commander from 2003 to 2008.

“We had to be completely different than what we were,” said McChrystal. “Part of our problem was that we were so good at what we did, that we didn’t want to change. The hardest thing in the world is to take an organization that is completely grounded — in what they are and who they are — and tell them they are going to be someone else.”

To overcome this challenge, McChrystal said JSOC had to develop a “shared consciousness,” which he described as mission transparency based on trust and common purpose.

McChrystal used the search for Mullah Dadullah as an example of the need for better communications and shared consciousness. Six organizations were working to capture the former Taliban commander, but were not sharing information.

“Everyone was putting in great effort, but everyone’s effort was incomplete,” said McChrystal. “There was this cumulative amount of effort that was huge, but it was not together, so (Dadullah) ran the seams and he continued to win.”

A group of leaders met and identified the need to pass and share more information to find Dadullah.
“We put the information together just by communicating,” said McChrystal. “In a month Mullah Dadullah was dead.”

Empowerment of junior leaders is important as well.

“Senior leaders have got to trust junior leaders and challenge them,” he said. “You’ve got to empower people so they can act.”

McChrystal said the argument against this philosophy is that mistakes can be made.

“Guess what? All people make mistakes. I’m not going to make a better decision than they are if I have empowered them with information and contextual understanding,” said McChrystal.
The general thanked the NGA workforce and said he developed an admiration and respect for NGA during his time with ISAF and JSOC.

“I owe a debt to the people of NGA,” he said.

McChrystal was the first guest in the NGA Director’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Director Letitia A. Long created the series to provide a platform for leaders to share experiences and successes with the NGA workforce.

The series helps cultivate lifelong learning and career development, said Long.

“This is the first of what I hope will be many great opportunities in our new series — opportunities to engage the NGA workforce in our culture of continuous learning and leadership,” said Long.