The Leadership Traits of General McChrystal

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General Stanley McChrystal is an example of an exceptional leader that faced various challenges throughout his life and developed essential leadership traits. As South (2019) reports, McChrystal is a retired four-star general and a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Furthermore, he is the founder of the McChrystal Group, which offers advisory services and management consulting. McChrystal’s career began in 1976 as he graduated from West Point and became a weapons platoon leader (South, 2019).

Later he headed the JSOC during the height of the Iraq War and the ISAF in Afghanistan. After his retirement in 2010, McChrystal joined numerous boards of private and non-profit companies and published several books (South, 2019). Therefore, his leadership style and perspective allowed him to succeed in his career and be effective both personally and professionally. This paper aims to discuss the leadership traits of General McChrystal, taking into account both positive and negative qualities.

Positive Traits

The primary positive leadership traits associated with McChrystal are his self-discipline, decisiveness, empathy, adaptability, the ability to trust his team, critical thinking, and ambition. To begin with, the General believes that the military system presents an environment that is effective for growing leaders. According to South (2019), “the inordinate investment in time, energy, funding and manpower” found in the military field is rarely seen in the private industry (para. 19). Hence, McChrystal’s studies at the military academy and career path laid the foundation for such traits as self-discipline and decisiveness, which involve hard work and are critical to any leader.

Empathy is one of the primary traits of the leader since it allows for listening to the team, engaging, and ensuring efficient communication. As stated by Gregersen (2015), McChrystal is known for removing the barrier between himself and guests that come to his office by creating a comfortable atmosphere. He tends to sit next to the individual that he speaks to at a separate coffee table to help them open up instead of remaining at his desk. In McChrystal’s viewpoint, listening skills and the ability to be present at the moment are essential (Gregersen, 2015). Being empathetic to the group’s position is a critical characteristic of a leader.

Furthermore, adaptability is another leadership trait associated with General McChrystal. Throughout his career, he had to constantly learn and adapt to new requirements to be effective (High, 2018). Furthermore, it is the adaptability that contributed to the success of his Task Force in the War in Iraq (High, 2018). In the contemporary world, which progresses at a fast pace, it is essential to alter oneself to the changes regardless of the industry.

The ability to trust the team and, in turn, be trustworthy is another valuable quality found in McChrystal. Competitive environments of both business and military nature require a shared purpose and consciousness (Gregersen, 2015). On this condition, the leader can ensure effective teamwork and entrust the subordinates with making wise decisions. McChrystal often emphasized that trust can decrease transaction costs and create bonds (Gregersen, 2015). As a result, these characteristics contribute to leadership effectiveness and organizational success.

Finally, creative thinking is another essential leadership trait of General McChrystal. During his military service, McChrystal had to apply this skill in various situations to evaluate the impact of his decisions (High, 2018). Understanding the logical connections between events and ideas is essential to any leader to ensure sustainable solutions and organizational success. Furthermore, McChrystal’s ambition is an important trait that fueled his critical thinking, dedication, and performance.

Negative Traits

At the same time, no leader is flawless, and the negative traits of McChrystal as a leader include his arrogance and introverted nature. The famous Rolling Stone article that eventually led to the General’s retirement called him out for arrogant behavior and revealed the unflattering comments of his staff regarding the Obama administration (Hastings, 2010). Furthermore, as Hastings (2010) reports, McChrystal called Joe Biden’s counterterrorism strategy “shortsighted” and dismissed it (para. 15).

Such episodes contributed to the controversial perception of the General by the public. In addition, as Gregersen (2015) reports, McChrystal has been known as a “self-described introvert” who does not feel at ease at parties and rarely talks to people, especially peers (para. 8). Such criticism highlights that others’ perspective on a leader is essential, and regardless of the personal performance, it can harm their image. At the same time, McChrystal acknowledged the fact that no leader is perfect, and the primary goal is to continue to grow and improve.


To summarize, even though both positive and negative leadership traits can be found in General McChrystal, his self-discipline, decisiveness, empathy, and adaptability contributed to the success of his career. Leadership is contextual, which means that the ability to adapt is critical, and there is no style suitable for every situation. McChrystal was characterized by empathy, self-discipline, critical thinking, and the ability to trust his team, fueled by ambition, which defined him as an efficient leader.


Gregersen, H. (2015). What VW can learn from Gen. Stanley McChrystal about imperfect leaders. Fortune. Web.

Hastings, M. (2010). The runaway general: The profile that brought down McChrystal. Rolling Stone. Web.

High, P. (2018). General Stanley McChrystal separates myth from reality in leadership. Forbes. Web.

South, T. (2019). Gen. Stanley McChrystal: 5 takeaways on leadership. Military Times. Web.

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