What would a McChrystal School for Leadership look like?

Gen. Stan McChrystal in conversation with Adam Bryant, NY Times author of "The Corner Office," at Malvern Prep, April 3, 2017 (photo credit: Bob Colameco)

Gen. Stan McChrystal in conversation with Adam Bryant, NY Times author of "The Corner Office," at Malvern Prep, April 3, 2017 (photo credit: Bob Colameco)

As my last post reflects, Malvern Prep was lucky enough to welcome General Stanley McChrystal and New York Times “Corner Office” author Adam Bryant on April 3rd.  In the course of their conversation, they batted around the big questions of what it takes to lead in a world of accelerating change.

Toward the end of the conversation, Bryant asked McChrystal, “If you were going to design a school from scratch, what would it be like?”

General McChrystal said that a school preparing students to lead in a networked, globalized society would focus on three main dimensions:

  • Ancient and classic wisdom (e.g., Plutarch’s Lives)

  • Problem solving

  • Teamwork

McChrystal didn’t dismiss content knowledge--“knowing stuff”--but he did say that such knowledge is becoming “increasingly commoditized” (and therefore cheap) in a hyper-networked world.

On the other hand, the study of wisdom promotes leadership.  As learners ask the eternal questions, they begin to develop a philosophical, psychological, and emotional framework for their own approach to leadership.

Such self-awareness is priceless.

In turn, when they apply that wisdom to solving real problems as part of a team, they are practicing exactly what our networked world demands.

(I would add to McChrystal’s proposal the applied study of “mental models.” Shane Parrish at Farnam Street posts often about the topic.)

McChrystal’s notion is supported by Joi Ito, Executive Director of MIT’s Media Lab. In his book Whiplash (which, along with McChrystal’s Team of Teams, should be required reading for leaders), Ito talks about Media Lab’s intentionally “anti-disciplinary” approach to learning.  Rather than start with the lens of any particular discipline, students identify problems they want to explore, and then “pull in” the learning they need from any and all disciplines to understand that problem.  Along the way, these students work in teams, mentored (“coached”) by MIT professors.

Here is a litmus test for your school: Are you preparing students for the world that was, or for the world that is emerging? How do you know?

 

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Christian Talbot