Leadership Challenges: What We Can Learn from 9/11

September 11, 2001: A day in history that changed the world and history as we once knew it. Looking back on that day, many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. But the memories are all different; they’re all unique experiences. One person in the room may have been at work, watching it on the news and calling family members; the other may have been in 2nd grade, confused watching teachers try to hold back their tears. For some, it may just be a terrible memory; but for one four-star general, the events of 9/11 (along with other military experiences) brought about leadership challenges that he never expected.

In his thought-provoking TedTalk, Stanley McChrystal details experiences in the military that taught him some very tough lessons. He reflects on the team he worked with and their combat stories. He openly shares their successes and the stories of their failures. McChrystal had to abandon his traditional sense of leadership and start listening, be willing to learn, and address the possibility of failure. One of the greatest leadership challenges out there is to build consensus between people and a sense of shared purpose. Even between remote teams, those with different values, and those of differing skill sets.

One of the greatest leadership challenges out there is to build consensus and a sense of shared purpose.

 

While some of you might think that military stories don’t apply to you, in reality, we experience our own forms of combat every single day and never think twice about it. Things in our lives change, both personally and professionally. And people change along with it. The tenured team we once had is replaced with a younger, more tech-savvy workforce. While we’re always going to be fighting fires, the challenge we face is learning to fight them differently, utilizing the valuable people we have on our side.

As leaders, our job is to watch and take care of those we lead. And to teach our teams to watch and take care of each other. It’s to remain credible and legitimate, yet build faith and trust by being flexible and open-minded when change is needed. And according to this inspiring speaker, if those you lead go into and come out of combat, it’s because you led them well. It doesn’t matter if they won or lost; if they succeeded or failed. What matters is that they made it out. The thing about good leaders is that they “can let you fail, and yet not let you be a failure.”

A leader isn’t good because they’re right. They’re good because they are willing to learn and to trust.

– Stanley McChrystal

 

Though you may not be a military leader, you still have leadership challenges. You and your team must make it through without any major mistakes. You must work hard to keep your team on track. You might be managing budgets, schedules, and everything in between. You’re working to operate your business successfully. And the thing that Stanley McChrystal learned about fighting fires is that every single one presents a brand new leadership challenge. But you know you’re doing it right when you fall and “the people you’ve always counted on help you back up.”

So the next time you lead your team into combat, stop and think about how you’re going to do it. Think about the way you lead. Think about the team that you rely on and the team that relies on you. Remember, “A leader isn’t good because they are right. They’re good because they are willing to learn and to trust.”

One of the greatest leadership challenges out there is to build consensus and a sense of shared purpose. Click To Tweet A leader isn't good because they're right. They're good because they are willing to learn and to trust. - Stanley McChrystal Click To Tweet

For more on building teams that communicate and trust each other, click here.