Monday, June 28, 2010

General McChrystal gets Fired! Career Lesson Learned

If you have been a regular reader of my career blogs for the last four years, you probably know that I write about public career blunders in the headlines.


Whether it was Blago whose recorded conversations ousted him from the Governor's mansion; Elliot Spitzer, caught perpetrating a crime he would probably have prosecuted someone else for, or the former Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, recently sentenced to five years with 10 felony counts. This phenomenon is not just limited to politics either. Consider Michael Vick, sent away at the height of his career for animal cruelty or Plaxico Burress who accidentally shot himself in the career when he got two years for accidentally shooting himself in the foot.

The latest, most publicized career blunder comes to us courtesy of General Stanley McChrystal, whose letter of resignation was recently accepted by President Obama, for a story featuring comments from him and his aides published in Rolling Stone Magazine.

This story, as with the others, can make one wonder what drives these very public, high powered, professionals to exercise this kind of poor judgment leading to career meltdown.

What is sad to me, is that no matter how committed General McChrystal has been to tasks, how stellar his professional reputation, or how solid McChrystal's resume, people will remember him for this very public lapse in judgment. A lapse in judgment, so egregious, there seemed to be no option but to relieve him of his assignment.

Whether they believe he should have been fired or not, no one with whom I have spoken about it, hasn't expressed empathy for McChrystal's situation.

Why?

Who among us has not wanted to express our less than positive opinion about a workplace issue, a boss or a co-worker?

Who among us hasn't wanted to unload about work, bosses or colleagues on anyone who would listen?

Who among us hasn't had that day when we wished we could just say exactly what we thought about company, boss or manager...and just let the chips fall where they may?

I know I have.

What stops us? For the last several days I have been thinking about that. Here is what I came up with.

Is it possible that the higher you go in your career and the more power you assume, the greater the conflict between power and basic common sense.

What stops many of us from venting or spewing, is the fact that we may, in fact, want to move up the proverbial ladder within a company. When it comes right down to it...our basic common sense guides us to know that speaking or behaving negatively when representing the organization, is not the way forward. What if you have made it through the ranks, and have all the power you think you need...does the ability to think rationally about the basics go out the window?

In General McChrystal's case, it seems --not only could he not stop himself from making statements that challenge the very foundation of civilian control of the military...the people who surrounded him, were so drunk with their own proximity to him, they could neither stop themselves, nor, stop McChrystal.

The lessons here are many, but I see two important takeaways:

1. Make sure that as you climb the ladder of career success, you stay connected with others -- mentors, sponsors, friends or family -- who aren't afraid to tell you when you are going overboard.

2. Be careful who ends up in your inner circle in the workplace. Look for people who can exercise good judgment even if, or especially when, you have a temporary lapse.