How to Control the General McChrystal in Your Company

Whether you agree or disagree with the comments made by General Stanley McChrystal in his now infamous Rolling Stone interview, you have to agree that this is a public relations nightmare for him, his staff, the military chain of command and the President of the United States.  With McChrystal being called to the woodshed by President Obama in Washington D.C., reports continue to surface on whether he has already resigned or that the President will fire him.  Whatever, the case, McChrystal put himself into this situation and that is where the mistake began.

Generals have clashed before with their President.  Lincoln fired a number of Generals of the Potomac, including General McClellan, who refused orders to engage the enemy. Perhaps the most famous Presidential reaction was Truman’s recall of General Macarthur during the Korean War for refusing to adhere to Truman’s orders not to cross the 38th parallel.

What’s happening with McChrystal is something that can happen in companies across the country when executives are left to deal with media in unguarded situations.  I have never been one to put handcuffs on clients and bar them from engaging media. That said you have to properly position the client for the right media opportunities and properly prepare them.  Having the commanding General in Afghanistan talk to a reporter for the Rolling Stone, doesn’t seem like the best choice on paper and certainly has not turned out well for General McChrystal.  This is no knock on the journalist but a knock on McChrystal’s staff for putting him into a position of failure from the start.

Why give such an interview?  And, if you are going to grant such access, how can you do so and not closely monitor and protect your General?  In the case of the Rolling Stone interview, there were no controls put on the reporting. Too many loose quotes and sources in the piece are testimony to this.

It also speaks volumes to the importance of media training.  Properly conditioning executives in your company, athletes, sales teams, etc. to how to handle media questioning is paramount to an effective communications program.   

Corporate communications executives face this situation all the time and the best of them learn to navigate the waters and choose the best platform for offering access to the chief executive.  Sure there are loose cannons in every company. Identifying the weaknesses of these individuals and taking steps to educate them on reigning in their bad side when it comes to communicating to the media, is essential to maintaining their reputation and that of the company.

From a public relations front, the McChrystal situation can be a determining factor in how the country and world view President Barack Obama.  When Truman dismissed Macarthur, he dismissed a hero of World War II.   Macarthur was even allowed to address a joint session of Congress following his firing.  It was there that he uttered the famous line, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

If President Obama does not fire McChrystal or demand his resignation he will appear weak in front of the eyes of the military, country and outside world.   He now has a bully pulpit to show his leadership as Commander in Chief.

Just like a company whose representative goes astray with an interview that can cause harm to company sales, image and reputation, how the powers that be deal with such a scenario is how the public will ultimately perceive them.

General McChrystal’s staff has failed him and he has failed his boss, the President of the United States.  How the boss deals with it will ultimately decide how he is perceived in the world.  It’s definitely time for this old soldier to fade away.  Make sure the soldiers in your company are properly prepared before you have to clean up the mess they leave behind.

Tom Cosentino


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