that ended his career. Still recovering, he has turned trauma into a
It's easy to be a leader when things are going
well. The true test comes when things fall apart. How do you handle yourself
General Stanley McChrystal delivered very personal wisdom at
Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen on Tuesday during a "Lessons in Leadership"
session that also included Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) EVP Todd Bradley. McChrystal
was the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010 when a Rolling Stone
profile portrayed him and his aides as contemptuous of the President. The story,
which McChrystal says was inaccurate, led him to resign and end his military
The four-star general's reinvention now has him
leading the McChrystal Group, a consulting firm that helps companies like HP
change the ways they operate. While dispensing plenty of leadership advice, the
gem of this session, which I moderated, was McChrystal's stunning
candor--speaking as he has not before about his crisis, the lesson from it, and
the approach any of us might take to gain strength from an embarrassing
"Well, I decided to myself, that that was an inflection
point in my life. And I couldn't change that now. You can't change the past.
And what I was going to try to do is conduct myself every day for
the rest of my life in a way that would cause anybody who saw or dealt with me
to say, "That's not congruent with the tone of that report."
So, rather than take on the report directly, I decided to take it on indirectly and
just try to disprove it by my conduct.
You pay a big price when you
do that. Silence hurts. When you keep your mouth shut and you don't write about
it, you don't talk about it, and every day you want to scream.
You want to scream out every day—a little less every day, but every day you
Most leaders go through something like that…Get yourself ready
to what's important to you: What's the core of you? What can't people take away
And realize that if you give to other people the opportunity
to determine your dignity or your sense of self-worth—if you outsource that to
them—they can leave you in a bad place.