Listen, Learn… Then Lead

Posted by on Jun 2, 2013 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

Listen, Learn… Then Lead

“A leader isn’t good because they’re right; a leader is good because they’re willing to learn and trust.”

In his 2011 Ted talk, four-star General Stanley McChrystal talks candidly about how the challenges and failures he has faced have made him a better leader.

McChrystal grew up with U.S. war heroes as his leadership models, but he says that the changes since 9/11 in warfare and intelligence call for a new leadership style. The retired general shares insight on adapting to the evolving workforce we’re all navigating – one of remote workers, cross-generational collaboration and instant, global communication.

“A 22 year-old individual operating alone, thousands of miles from me, has got  to communicate to me with confidence,” he observes. “I have to have trust in them, and vice versa; and I also have to build their faith. And that’s a new kind of leadership for me.”

The key to building trust for effective teams, McChrystal believes, is constant learning. Leaders must explore all the new technological resources available to connect with their teams across the globe. “I’ve got to use everything I can,” McChrystal insists, “not just for communication but for leadership.” Video-conferencing, conference calls, and cloud-based collaboration are all tools today’s leaders can use to collaborate in real-time to develop consensus and shared purpose.

From over 27 years of experience as a paratrooper for the U.S. military, McChrystal has learned that relationships are the most important aspect of building a successful team. “They are the sinew that hold the force together,” he explains, and they depend upon a selflessness and a sense of shared accountability. Leaders have to focus intentionally on creating a team culture of shared responsibility, and they themselves must model it.

McChrystal embodies this style in his lecture, owning up to failures to emphasize that character and discipline are more important than never making mistakes. “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure,” he proposes. In his eyes, the best leaders facilitate experiences where a team can fail safely and learn – without making their failure define them.

McChrystal’s formula for leadership emphasizes character. Be honest, humble and willing to learn, he believes. By your example, lead your team to learn and adapt, and you’ll all land with both feet on the ground.

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