There continue to be opinions are all over the place about President Obama's firing of Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal last week. As a leader, it is not difficult to feel a great sense of compassion for General McChrystal; his own description demonstrating he knew that his behavior and poor judgment brought on his day of reckoning. My reason for describing it as I have is based on an early leadership lesson in my career. In my first management job at IBM, my boss told me, while I watched this happen to a "highly decorated" leader friend, that when someone resigns under such circumstances, it is being FIRED; the resignation is a courtesy to help preserve the person's dignity. This message stayed with me. I remember never wanting to know this experience first-hand. :-)
Some years back, I had the opportunity to visit the Pentagon. The Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel for the Army at the time, General David H. Ohle spent significant time teaching me about Army Values; how they were taught and ingrained into a soldier's being. I remember relating to them instantly, because they weren't so very different from IBM's Basic Beliefs and Business Conduct Guidelines that I grew up on in my first career. General Ohle gave me an Army Values Card, which I've cherished. I took it out first thing last week when the news broke about General McChrystal. The values --- Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage ---together with the"Soldier's Code" on the back of the card, provide a clear set of standards for behavior at all levels. At the Commanding General level, I can only imagine that the Rolling Stone interview with all its associated activities, behavior, actions, and far-reaching implications did not fall within these standards and perhaps a few others.
One observation I've had over the years in my own leadership career and working with senior leaders in many organizations is that most leaders fired are not fired for incompetence, but sadly, some truly BRILLIANT ones are taken out of their jobs for poor judgment and behavior unbecoming a respected leader. It is often when you least expect it --- and it always comes as shock for everyone. It rattles the best of us if it's close, because no matter how perfect we all like to think we are, with just a little lapse of judgment --- a little thoughtless behavior --- a little twist of fate, it could have been us.
LEADERSHIP TOOL: "The SUNSHINE TEST"
When I was a young leader at IBM, I always appreciated how we were coached and counseled with personalized briefing letters from our CEOs on all kinds of management topics. When the General McChrystal incident came to light last week, I flashed on one briefing in particular I've never forgotten. It defined the expectations for manager's personal conduct and also provided an excellent "leadership tool" for your personal decision-making that has been in my consciousness ever since --- and generously used. I've summarized the two key parts below. At IBM, I am quite certain that these clearly defined expectations saved the "bacon" of many leaders. The summary is taken from the original briefing published by IBM in a book we were given as a gift; it remains a ready reference for thinking and questioning today:
*** EXPECTATION of IBM's Managers:The company respects the individual's right to privacy, but managers have responsibilities that do not always end at the close of business. Managers often travel on business or are away on temporary assignment, alone or with peers and subordinates. Whatever the circumstance, if their behavior on their own time adversely affects IBM's reputation or their own ability to manage, it's a business problem.
*** The SUNSHINE TEST: If you have any doubt whether certain behavior is acceptable, apply the "sunshine test." Ask yourself how you would feel if the conduct were exposed to the full light of day and the examination of colleagues you respect. If you are uncomfortable with the answer, you won't need a rule book or formal business review to tell you what's right.
TAKE A GOOD LOOK IN THE MIRROR
General McChrystal's story is perhaps a leadership wake-up call for us all. I read once that the world is a mirror and gives back to each of us the reflection of our own face. Maybe this incident can be the mirror in which we each take a good look at our own behavior and actions, recommitting ourselves to be LEADERS by example.
How could we use this example to challenge ourselves to be more thoughtful in our leadership and conscious of the implications of our behavior and actions on others and the organizations and communities we serve?
What are your thoughts?
Debbe Kennedyfounder, president, and CEO
Global Dialogue Center and Leadership Solutions Companies
Twitter: @debbekennedy @onlinedialogues
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