Reading for War
'My Share of the Task: A Memoir' by Stanley McChrystalBy Nick Alexander October 24, 2017
It’s the fight, it’s the fight, it’s the fight… and then some.
Reflecting on his career, the General steps up to the dais in-front of the parade ground. His time in uniform, like most who pursue a career in the complex profession of Arms was certainly not always smooth sailing. Controversy of significant magnitude perhaps brought his time to a premature end. But his soldiers stood before him in combat uniforms rather than ceremonial dress. A decision of his choosing for dual reasons. First for the comfort of his personnel and secondly as it reflected his belief as to the natural state of warriors and the soldier he had been.
‘If I had it to do over again, I’d do some things differently, but not many. I believed in people, and I still believe in them. I trusted and I still trust. I cared and I still care. I wouldn’t have had it any other way… To the young leaders of today and tomorrow, it’s a great life. Thank you.’ With these words he marches off the parade ground and ends his memoir. GEN Stanley McChrystal’s My Share of the Task: A Memoir, is an engrossing self reflection with lessons to be had for leaders of all levels, military planners and strategists and those simply with an interest in the turbulent period of the US and its Allies recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years.
As a leader McChrystal is renowned for his ‘Team of Teams’ philosophy, but this book gives even greater insight into his method and rationale for looking to ameliorate tribalism within US Special Forces whilst still maintaining this force at the tip of the spear. He demonstrates the utility of systems approaches to managing issues of small team human dynamics through to complex strategic policy. And he exhibits on balance; the power of trust in one’s team to encourage an environment of innovation and intellectual growth. Is this trust truly born out of faith in the team however, or is it due to a form of nepotism? Does this make his approach any less successful? This is one of the conundrums you may find yourself battling as you get into the mind of one of recent history’s most publicised operational commanders.
Reading through this book the other juxtaposition that struck me was his unwavering work ethic, and whether this lead to him being incapable of coming up for air and gaining perspective. McChrystal spent the better part of seven years consumed with nothing other than the war on terror. As one of my colleagues mentioned during our discussion in the Postern Book Club, it appeared as though he never slept. When considering his ability to see the wood for the trees from a strategic perspective, prior to taking over command in Afghanistan, perhaps this unrelenting tempo resulted in diminished returns. Did his strategy become binary without necessary nuance secondary to the changing political context surrounding the US’s involvement in Afghanistan?
Whatever your thoughts on McChrystal and his highly publicised dismissal and subsequent satirical representation in the feature film 'War Machine', there is a great deal of upside to this memoir. It will make you think as it is surprisingly humble and doesn’t shy away from meaningful self-critique. It is filled with poignant examples of both successful and not so successful leadership to inform self-discovery and growth in those that aspire to be authentic leaders. No leader is perfect, but what is portrayed in this memoir is that like one of his former Commanding Officers, McChrystal ‘…cared deeply and knew his stuff.’
I give 'My Share of the Task' 4 out of 5 Generals stars.
Copies of My Share of the Task are also available from the Defence Library Service (link only available on DPN)