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Becoming an extraordinary leader

General McChrystal and Chris Fussell on shared consciousness, empowering employees and building a cohesive team

Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey – some of the greatest leaders of all time. But what makes each of these individuals such a remarkable leader? And how do we define great leadership?

We may be apt to hold on to the traditional notion that leadership is defined by rank and order. But your position or title alone does not qualify you as a veritable leader. Think about it, how many CEOs are there in the world that hold a position of great power, but have a nominal impact on their employees? How many managers aren’t even respected by those that they manage? Even brilliant and innovative individuals can stumble when it comes to finding their voice. Because leadership is not defined by a position, nor it is even defined by intellectual prowess or natural talent – leadership is the skill of influence, something that you can use to impact the thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions of others. And it is the most important skill that any one of us can master.

Yet as important as leadership is, in today’s world, it’s a rarity. And that’s not because there is a scarcity of natural born leaders. In fact, leadership can be cultivated. Many of us suppose it’s an innate talent, but anyone can become a leader in something that they decide to become masterful in. You could be the leader in your business, the leader in your class, the leader in your own family. You could even decide to become the leader of your own life. There are different types and different styles of leadership. But real leadership starts with the capacity to discipline your disappointment. Because along any journey worth taking, you are going to encounter obstacles, and odds are, you are going to fail. But if you can find a way to connect to yourself, and connect to others, and if you can find a way to break through those challenges, you can become a true leader. And when you strive to serve the greater good – something greater than yourself – that’s when you can become a truly great leader.

Tony and Mary Buckheit recently sat down with General Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell to discuss what great leadership looks like today and how to cultivate an infrastructure for success in any organization.

General Stanley A. McChrystal has been called “one of America’s greatest warriors” by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  A retired four-star general, he is the former commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Afghanistan and the former commander of the premier military counter-terrorism force, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). He is best known for developing and implementing the current counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and for creating a comprehensive counter-terrorism organization that revolutionized the interagency operating culture.

General McChrystal now serves as a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs where he teaches a course on Leadership in Operation.  And he co-founded the McChrystal Group in January of 2011 where he is currently a partner.  McChrystal Group’s mission is to deliver innovative leadership solutions to American businesses to help them transform and succeed in challenging and dynamic environments.

Chris Fussell is a former Navy SEAL Officer, where he spent 15 years leading SEAL elements in combat zones around the globe. He served as Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant General McChrystal during McChrystal’s final year commanding JSOC, becoming an integral part of the team that made the Special Operation’s transformation into a successful, agile network possible. Fussell is also a partner at the McChrystal Group, where he leads the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute, where he brings his Special Operations experience and his expertise in leadership development to organizations of all sizes. In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, he regularly does media interviews, gives keynotes speeches, and speaks to business leaders at roundtables and panels.

In this episode of the podcast, you will hear Tony, General McChrystal and Chris delve into the reasons that leadership no longer comes from a command and control model, but from creating relationship-based change throughout the entire organization and by empowering every single person that is part of your business. And they examine the importance of building trust, remaining flexible, practicing empathy, and creating a culture of shared consciousness. By breaking out of the traditional sense of leadership, business owners can create a more cohesive and more powerful team that is not only more unified, but more efficient, and ultimately, more effective.


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General Stanley McChrystal


Chris Fussell



[01:28] Tony on the importance of leadership
[02:00] Introduction of General Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell
[02:41] General McChrystal’s background
[03:30] Tony describes how the General transformed special opps
[04:30] Chris’s background
[04:55] Chris served as the General’s aid-de-campe
[05:20] Chris’s collaborative work with McChrystal
[05:40] Their new book “One Mission Many Teams”
[06:20] Technology, globalization and social media has transformed the world
[06:40] McChrystal’s perspective on what leadership means
[07:15] Growing up with a traditional model of leadership
[08:10] Basic leadership skills
[08:15] The traditional hierarchical structure of leadership designed to create efficiency
[09:00] Originally believed leaders were a “command and control” operation
[09:30] 2003 changed everything
[10:00] Bringing the habits and culture of past leadership to an entirely new world
[10:25] Designed to go after the traditional structure of terrorist groups
[11:00] Al Qaeda in Iraq was a new beast
[11:30] Al Qaeda was designed to thrive on information technology
[12:00] The new structure of Al Qaeda enabled a new level of flexibility and adaptability
[12:35] The first few years fighting Al Qaeda were a massive struggle
[13:00] General McChrystal realized they needed a strategic shift if they wanted to win
[13:30] When any organization gets bigger, it’s easy to get stuck in tradition and protocol
[14:00] You have to move from controlling and predicting to finding an ability to adapt
[14:15] The illusion that information technology inherently provides efficiency
[15:00] The sense of guilt that a CEO experiences
[15:25] How to create “shared consciousness” in an organization
[16:00] When everyone has context, this increases efficiency and reach
[16:30] By letting go of control you get a better outcome
[16:50] Delegating is more than assigning a task
[17:10] You must leverage information back and forth
[17:15] How Steve Wynn leverages information to improve his company
[17:45] Digging for success stories to build your culture
[18:15] How a bellman at the hotel was empowered to make his own decisions
[19:00] How UCLA medical center improved ratings within a year
[19:20] Treating every person as if he or she was part of your family
[19:45] How a nurse took control to improve a customer’s experience
[20:10] Pushing information every direction and empowering people at the base helps build the greatest organizations in the world
[20:20] General McChrystal was trying to manage people in over 20 different countries
[20:40] Creating a shared culture and building trust
[21:45] How the General learned how to connect everyone from the newest soldiers to the highest ranks of the FBI
[22:40] The General saw his role differently – he was solely a “connector”
[23:30] Began implementing a daily video teleconference across the entire command
[23:55] Overcoming people’s reluctance to engage in closer connections
[24:20] People need to be reinforced that what they are doing is okay
[26:00] Creating a relationship-based change
[26:20] Breaking the boundaries of past conditioning and breaking through transactional relationships
[27:00] How this shift empowered the teams
[27:40] They weren’t waiting for guidance anymore
[28:00] Rebuilding after failure
[29:40] General McChrystal on bridging the divide between ranks and sharing hardships
[32:20] You may not be able to make it easier, but you can show them that what they do matters
[32:30] “You may have failed, but you’re not a failure”
[32:10] Moving from command and control to finding the power in relationships
[33:30] The code behind bringing tribal groups together
[34:00] Finding a higher level approach that unifies all groups
[35:00] If you don’t form a coherent force, then you won’t be fighting the war, you will be stuck on the little fights
[35:25] Expanding your perspective to the wider sense of a team
[36:00] Establish certain priorities and learn to be very flexible on others
[37:40] Using this logic for working with millennials
[38:50] The bond between army rangers – “The Ranger Creed”
[39:30] Why millennials appreciate honest conversation with senior leadership
[42:00] The agenda shapes itself when you open up communication
[42:30] Listen, learn then lead
[43:00] Creating more empathy in leadership
[44:00] Creating an environment where employees feel empowered and then celebrating that
[44:30] The leader’s role is a facilitator
[45:40] Safety is not just a checklist, it’s a culture
[46:00] Find out the pain points of your employees and take an empathetic approach
[47:15] The gardener vs. the chess master
[49:40] Creating a heightened sense of accountability is true empowerment
[51:20] A true picture of what America looks like today
[53:20] America has innate opportunity and privilege
[54:30] We need to realize that nothing is automatic
[54:20] If this is going to be a good place to live, then we have to make it that way
[56:00] Citizenship is also about responsibility for other citizens
[56:30] Leadership must not call upon our fears, but upon our desire to be better
[57:30] We have to get more comfortable with the unknown
[58:20] General McChrystal’s definition of a great leader today
[59:30] Information comes so much faster that the moments to decide have been compressed
[59:50] Decision makers are not constrained by information, but the ability to digest the information and take action
[1:00:20] Adaptability and the capacity to be resilient
[1:01:40] Accept you will be on a constant learning curve
[1:02:00] There’s no such thing as a 5-year business plan
[1:02:50] How to become better at decision-making
[1:03:50] Understand what decisions you should be making in your role and what can be pushed own
[1:04:35] What is the decision and when does it have to be made?
[1:04:40] What information do I have to have to make that decision?
[1:04:50] Who else needs a say in this decision?
[1:05:10] By socializing the decision it tends to come out better
[1:06:00] Moving from an operator to an owner
[1:07:00] Moving from transactional questions to more thoughtful questions
[1:08:00] A network of connections where everyone shares the outcome and purpose
[1:08:20] The General’s physical routine
[1:10:10] The power of personal discipline
[1:11:45] The discipline to be kind, to not take shortcuts and to lead by example
[1:13:30] The Rolling Stone article and how it changed General McChrystal
[1:15:30] An incendiary article was published
[1:16:30] Accepting his resignation after 34 years as an officer
[1:17:20] Feeling like his career was over, but his wife gave perspective and security
[1:18:15] He had 2 choices: to be bitter and angry at injustice, or to move forward
[1:20:00] The decision to live in beautiful state no matter what
[1:21:10] Chris on the defining qualities of General McChrystal
[1:22:00] The more senior you get, the more humility is required
[1:23:10] The Harvard study on cats – the brain grows by what stimulates it
[1:23:40] You can’t empathize if you think you are omniscient
[1:24:00] Advice to President Trump
[1:24:30] The mistake of “just putting talent together” – even with the best intentions
[1:25:20] Getting the key leaders together and building a relationship
[1:26:20] Why bonds can only be created by undergoing shared experiences and difficult periods together
[1:28:15] What’s next for General McChrystal and Chris Fussell
[1:28:40] What the McChrystal Group does – leadership advisory
[1:30:20] What General McChrystal hopes his legacy is


How to build a team that works – Three questions that you can ask to ensure you are hiring the right people and building a team that will help your company thrive.

The change cultivator – How Gene Baur is breaking barriers and creating the change that he wants to see in the world.

How to make employees into leaders – By empowering your employees, you will instill a strong sense of leadership in the everyday culture of your business.

Team Tony

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