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Katherine Tyler Scott
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Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Rebuilding 'Team America'

Q: In confronting the issue of Gen. McChrystal's apparent insubordination, did President Obama have any choice but to remove him? Going forward, what can Gen. Petraeus do to overcome this dramatic shakeup and keep his troops reassured and on mission?

President Obama did precisely what had to be done.

In our military system, the chain of command is a non-negotiable hierarchy of accountability and the President is the Commander-in-Chief; insubordinate behavior shakes the very foundation of the ways things are done. When such behavior is ignored or minimized, as it was under in previous times with this General, it undermines the mutual respect, trust, and shared accountability troops need to put themselves in harm's way. The willingness to offer the ultimate sacrifice deserves only the best leadership. The General lost the respect of those he needed to get the job done. How can the troops be expected to do what their own Commander doesn't do?

Whenever any leader experiences this type of sabotage within their group they have no choice but to let the individual go. When someone like this is allowed to remain in authority they create a toxic environment that is destructive of the goodwill, trust, and cohesiveness needed to work as an effective unit. The so-called "Team America," is an example of a closed inner group that mirrored the attitudes and behavior of their leader. They followed the leader in expressing vulgarity and disdain for members of the National Security Team, and had no hesitancy in doing so in the presence of a reporter!

Such blatant hostility and disregard for their superiors endangers everyone. When respect for authority is absent more than egos are hurt - lives can be lost. General McChrystal crossed the line into inappropriate behavior and this isn't the first time. From what I have read of his history of service, he is a tough, disciplined, smart, determined, persistent leader who is unrelenting in the pursuit of a goal in which he believes. Because of his previous stellar performances he was allowed to skirt the rules. Unfortunately, a form of functional atheism occurred - that malady that occurs when a leader thinks that they are in total control and everything depends on them. When the leader operates as though no one else is as tough, disciplined, smart, determined, persistent, and unrelenting as he is, the ego enlarges. It is as if the portrait of General McChrystal as "the invincible warrior" - the leader who eats once a day, sleeps only four hours a day, runs daily, and shows up unexpectedly on the battle field fighting side by side with soldiers - became a deification of who he was.

General Petraeus will have to dismantle "Team America" immediately and help the troops understand a common identity and reestablish a common goal. There are soldiers who will grieve the loss of McChrystal, and General Petraeus will need to listen to the feelings, thoughts, and opinions of his soldiers and help them to understand the difference between constructive dissent and verbal mutiny. One is essential to creating a culture of trust and honesty in which understanding can be achieved; the other is corrosive to trust and diminishes loyalty to a set of principles and practices that provide stability and direction in the chaos of war. If you are going to put your life on the line you will want to do so for a cause greater than someone's ego or self-aggrandizement, and for a leader who hasn't lost sight of the difference.

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  June 24, 2010; 11:11 AM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: He had me at Pat Tillman | Next: The burden on Petraeus

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Ms. Scott,
Your "apology" here in the comments is not acceptable. How do you reconcile the use of terms like "unfortunately" and "malady" with the claim that you didn't intend a pejorative connotation? If by "functional atheism" you really did only mean "egotism," then "egotism" is the term you should've used. The former terminology belies a theist agenda, which really has no place in the discussion of these events.

Posted by: JS1685 | June 26, 2010 2:05 PM
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Dear Katherine Tyler Scott,

There is no connection between atheism and the sort of egotism you have described. You can't go from 'there is no god' to 'I'm the only one who can make anything decent happen.' Maybe you want something more along the lines of solipsism.

The term 'Functional Atheism' is confusing and, in an ironically unconscious, unexamined way, loaded.

I will also point out that, funnily, your use of it would have made sense if you had stipulated that Obama is God.

Remember: Atheism = "Don't seem to be no God 'round this universe" (that's it).

Peace out,

Loving Atheist

Posted by: Jason011987 | June 25, 2010 3:55 PM
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Dear Katherine Tyler Scott,

There is no connection between atheism and the sort of egotism you have described. You can't go from 'there is no god' to 'I'm the only one who can make anything decent happen.' Maybe you want something more along the lines of solipsism.

The term 'Functional Atheism' is confusing and, in an ironically unconscious, unexamined way, loaded.

I will also point out that, funnily, your use of it would have made sense if you had stipulated that Obama is God.

Remember: Atheism = "Don't seem to be no God 'round this universe" (that's it).

Peace out,

Loving Atheist

Posted by: Jason011987 | June 25, 2010 3:53 PM
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The term "functional atheism" was not intended to be pejorative or an attack on any ones religious preferences or beliefs. I am sorry that some interpreted it in this way and reacted with such personal venomous responses. This term originated with noted sociologist and author, Dr. Parker Palmer. He describes it as part of the "shadow" of leaders and is a " belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us... the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen, we are the ones that must make it happen."
The point I made should not be lost-when a leader believes and acts as if they are the only one who can do something they inevitably create damage.
My hope is that we can discuss differences of opinion and perspective more professionally and constructively. I certainly did not intend to hurt anyone by using this phrase and should have done a better job of connecting it to an explanation. Again, I am sorry for the misunderstanding and any harm caused by it.
Katherine Tyler Scott

Posted by: ktylerscott | June 25, 2010 12:07 PM
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"... Unfortunately, a form of functional atheism occurred - that malady that occurs when a leader thinks that they are in total control and everything depends on them."

Very offensive and misdirected comment. This "Theist" needs an editor (or is the editor also as uninformed and biased as the author?

Posted by: myersmf | June 25, 2010 8:06 AM
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It's kind of appalling that the WP let's this kind of stuff be published. Imagine if Scott had said "Unfortunately, a form of functional Judaism occurred - that malady that occurs when a leader thinks that they are in total control and everything depends on them." Would this article even be taken seriously? Atheists are simply people who have weighed the option of whether god exists, and decided that there isn't enough evidence. Why they continue to be spoken of in such an incredibly negative light is astonishing.

Posted by: propagandhi1 | June 24, 2010 3:53 PM
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Functional athiesm?

If he had a god complex - as it seems in the article - he would be a functional theist. Don't use athiesm as a pejorative. We are not the ones that believe in a supernatural surveyor who somehow cares what a particular species of less hairy primate does in their bedroom.

I sure hope he isn't as crazy and vengeful as the biblical god.

Posted by: ration_al | June 24, 2010 3:37 PM
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