Gen. Stanley McChrystal is a name that resonates with a military career spanning 34 years. Commissioned in the Army in 1976, McChrystal served in airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces units, becoming a rising star as the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Assuming command of JSOC, McChrystal was instrumental in dismantling the insurgency in Iraq and killing Al Qaeda’s top man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
His motto, “it takes a network to defeat a network,” embodied McChrystal’s strategy. By placing liaisons in various agencies and units, JSOC became a central hub for intelligence sharing and quick action. The operational tempo under McChrystal was unparalleled, with Delta Force operators sometimes hitting three targets across Iraq in a single night.
While known for his tactical prowess, McChrystal also demonstrated an ability to navigate bureaucracy. As a warrior at heart, he was not afraid to stand up for himself and his subordinates. This assertiveness was showcased in a counterterrorism meeting when he confronted a disrespectful CIA station chief.
In 2009, McChrystal was appointed commander in Afghanistan, where he implemented a counterinsurgency strategy. He successfully convinced President Barack Obama and the Pentagon to send tens of thousands of additional troops, despite the political cost. McChrystal’s legacy remains, with the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and JSOC’s transformation among his greatest achievements.
In retirement, McChrystal has continued to make an impact, sharing his wisdom through teaching leadership courses at Yale University, joining the boards of private companies and nonprofits, and authoring three books. His latest book, “Leaders: Myth and Reality,” explores the qualities of effective leaders and the misconceptions surrounding leadership.
McChrystal’s unorthodox approach to leadership and his ability to adapt to different situations have made him one of America’s greatest warriors. As a leader, he exemplified humility, empathy, and the capacity to listen and discern what was required. It is these qualities that will continue to shape future generations of leaders.