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Want to Learn Some Career Limiting Moves? Do the McChrystal

In leadership coaching and consulting, I work with the best and the brightest, successful people.  In the process, I hear many protestations about  ”not wanting to play politics.”  I get it.  I didn’t want to participate in that, either.  (In fact, most women don’t.)  Truth be told, most people avoid politics because they don’t understand the rules.  There is a distinction between making the choice to be ignorant and all of the choice points that come with knowing the rules of the game and making decisions accordingly.  Yes?

General McChrystal’s scandal as reporting in a  Rolling Stone Magazine article provides a great study for those of us in organizational leadership because he so publicly and blatantly broke most of the unwritten corporate rules.  (although he did break a very written rule: UCMJ, article 88)  and because he is clearly one of the best and the brightest.  Folks, he was probably right about the strategy in Afghanistan.  What this shows us is that being the smartest person in the room and being right doesn’t mean we’re going to win.

That’s a hard lesson for those of us who think and want to work in a meritocracy.   Meritocracy is a LIE in most corporate cultures.  Personally, I find it repugnant and antithetical to all that I stand for in terms of creating inspired workplaces…. and in the world of today, work is a team sport, like football, and for the most part the same rules apply.  Part of team sports is knowing when to break the rules to win.   McChrystal sure blew that one, didn’t he?

Let’s start with the cardinal rule team sports and corporations.  Every team has a coach and players.  People play positions on the team, and they are not all equal in status.  Like it or not, the President was the coach,  McChrystal the quarterback.  His role in the hierarchy was to do what the coach wanted him to do and lead the team to achieve the goal.  Call the plays.  Execute.  Questioning authority and making your coach look bad violates the rules.

In team sports, when you undermine the coach, you get thrown off the team.  If you’re a good enough talent, the coach might put up with it for a while (think Terrell Owens), but eventually… buh-bye.

Another rule, when the game is over, it’s over.  Win some, lose some.  When you lose some, leading a report to the press about wanting more troops is tantamount to declaring war.  It’s a career limiting move to bully your boss like an Afghan general.

Another way to get yourself benched is to piss off the rest of the team.  It’s funny how people like Karl Eikenberry and Joe Biden don’t want to play anymore after they’ve been outed in public.

Final rule… if you’re going to break the rules, don’t get caught.

Understanding the rules in your organization is essential for your survival and advancement.  When you understand, you can decide whether and how to play the game.  When you don’t understand, you may never know why you’re stuck.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

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