Last week, an important leadership lesson played out on the world stage between General Stanley McChrystal and President Barack Obama. The wikipedia article about General McChrystal says:
Following insubordinate remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials attributed to McChrystal and his aides in a Rolling Stone article, McChrystal was recalled to Washington, D.C. where President Barack Obama accepted his resignation
I have not seen the article containing the reportedly insubordinate comments, and I am not attempting to make any political statement concerning General McChrystal or President Obama. I am simply observing the outcome of a leadership act: a high level leader who reports to a higher level leader within an organization took his discontent public and he had to leave the organization as a result.
On one side, some commentators have criticized General McChrystal for harming the Army’s mission in Afghanistan. On the other extreme, I heard speculation that General McChrystal may have made a public statement as a way to make his concerns known and to drive policy changes to protect his soldiers with full knowledge that it would lead to his removal from command.
Frankly, I don’t know General McChrystal’s motivations, and I’m not going to speculate about them.
I do know what happened, and I believe it demonstrates a valuable leadership lesson:
Disagree in private and agree in public.
Here’s what I mean by that statement. As a leader with the responsibility to carry out policy decisions made by others, do your arguing, debating, and persuading in private. When you are in public, show your support and commitment to the organization’s vision and mission.
If you see a moral or ethical dilemma, get out of the organization. If you cannot find a way to support the organizational direction, get out of the organization.
You simply should not stay in an organization, especially as a leader, if you do not support the organization’s goals.
As my friend and colleague Kevin Eikenberry says, “Vegetarians probably shouldn’t be servers in a steak house.”
You might survive for a while by hiding or suppressing your dissatisfaction and discontent, but it probably won’t last for long. You will likely say or do something eventually to hurt your leadership effectiveness.
Learn from the lesson demonstrated in the case of General McChrystal, get onboard with the organization’s mission or get out of the organization.