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Lisa Caputo
Bank executive

Lisa Caputo

Lisa Caputo is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Citi. She is also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Citi’s Women & Co.

The toughest decisions

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?

This week, President Obama was faced with a difficult decision concerning the fate of General Stanley A. McChrystal, top commander in Afghanistan, following the fallout from the general's controversial comments in a recent Rolling Stone article.

Whether or not one agrees with President Obama's decision to accept the general's resignation, to better understand this judgment call it is worth remembering something the President memorably told U.S. News & World Report: "If the problem has a clear solution, then it doesn't land on my desk. Somebody else has solved it." This might be the most lucid distillation of the president's job--and the role of any real leader--ever formulated.

If making tough calls like this is the substance of a leader's job, what lessons can be learned from the McChrystal incident? In announcing his decision, President Obama underscored two vitally important principles of good management: the mission is always bigger than any one man or woman; and there is a profound difference between debate and division.

A fundamental role of any leader is to set the vision and ensure that the team is rowing together in the same direction. In order to accomplish that goal, a leader must navigate all kinds of personalities, encouraging open discourse (which provides fresh insight and original thinking) while quelling discord (which steers the mission off course and fosters an unproductive atmosphere).

What holds true in political life also holds true in the corporate sector. During the economic downturn, Citi CEO Vikram Pandit made it his top priority to put everyone in the organization on a shared course of responsible finance. Part of that is acknowledging the role Citi played in the financial crisis and the responsibility we have to the American taxpayer that helped our company get through difficult times. Vikram is leading by example to set Citi on a path of change and reform. Each day, every Citi employee is reminded of the contribution we are making to America's economic recovery.

Did President Obama make the right call deciding General McChrystal's fate? Whether one agrees with his actions or not, the most important principle the president demonstrated was that a leader has to step up to the toughest decisions.

By Lisa Caputo

 |  June 25, 2010; 12:36 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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With the comments of one aide drawing an exception to the article, saying he was drunk when he made those comments. I think this is a matter of subtrefuge via scathing unscrupuled journalist Michael Hastings and the bad taste of Rolling Stones magazine.

True Gen. McChrystal should have known better than to let his guard down with any journalist let alone from the oh so liberal Rolling Stone magazine. He should have known that they weren't going to paint a pretty portrait of a staunch hands-on warrior general such as himself. Which leads me to wonder (maybe not), if McChrystal has a serious drinking problem and maybe a touch of PTSD.

Obama had no recourse, BUT to have relieved McChrystal of command (who wants a practicing alcoholic to command battalions of our troops?), the Army might be close, still, slavery has been outlawed in the US for over 150 years. I'd like to think Obama could have spent a little more time assessing the cause of his subordinate's screaming malfunction. I would think that Obama's being the "Health Care Reform" administration, that McChrystal would have been advised to not make any rash decisions till he was in a sane frame of mind, and have been informed that in the case of any addiction is months down the line after they do not use the substance.

The General made the decision handing in his resignation, but Obama had to decide whether to accept it or not. I'd have asked whether McChrystal couldn't have been used in a lower ranking capacity instead of being full out removed from the service of the Army.

We may never know what in fact happened. Obama probably DID try to insist on McChrystal getting some professional help, which may or may not have been refused, but to reveal that would also be against the law as this is a medical matter, not just behavioral.

So Obama really wasn't given much of a choice.

Posted by: alaskansheilah | June 25, 2010 3:38 PM
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I think if McChrystal had been a civilian and if this hadn't been the second time something like this happened, maybe Obama would have elected to keep him. But he's not a civilian.

Leadership also means understanding the culture of the organization and what McChrystal said was a court martial offense. Privates get busted for this. The military can't have that kind of insubordination in the ranks and I don't believe they want it in the command. Go read the Caine Mutiny and see a very nice read on military leadership.

As for firing generals in the middle of a war - which is not going well btw - since when is that the rule? Presidents have been firing generals for years. Hell, even Bush fired generals. That would be what civilian control of the military means.

And if you're the boss, tell me honestly that you would have sat down and talked it through with the subordinate who mocked upper management after having been spoken to about this eight or nine months ago?

McChrystal is a grown man and he doesn't have to have been a political player to have known what on and off the record means. Per one of the RS editors, THEY ACTUALLY SAID OTHER STUFF WAS OFF THE RECORD. This is the stuff they thought was safe.

Posted by: brcollins42 | June 25, 2010 3:22 PM
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Obama should have taken the time to have McChrystal expand upon his comments. They are likely driven by frustration. As a good manager, he should figure out what is creating that frustration and act to alleviate it, even if it's just with words.

I profiled Obama long ago as an egotistical guy who simply won't stand for being publicly humiliated, even if it's warranted or incidental. In this case, incidental, since it was 3rd hand through a reporter and not directly announced. Obama could have explained to the general that he needs to have his back and that the Rolling Stone incident is not helping. But I'm betting that Obama simply went off when he found he looked bad in front of others, like he always does (with reporters, etc). He might be smart, but he's young, rash, unwise and worst of all egotistical. Politically, I don't mind him. He upped the commitment in Afghanistan rather than simply pull the plug because his ego won't allow him to appear weak. As a result, he's now operating off the George Bush playbook. Aside from healthcare, he hasn't done anything that Bush wouldn't have done if he were still there.

Posted by: toshiro1 | June 25, 2010 2:24 PM
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USA goes wherever it does to stay as long as possible. Sometimes this personage goes as a business, sometimes as a defender, and mostly as an offender. The use of McChrystal was for keeping an iron clasp on what USA calls insurgengy, but McChrystal was a human above being a killing general. This alone was his undoing. His comments on his superiors were only in disparagement of their pursuits. If USA wanted to wind up gracefully it was desirable to keep this humane character in his duties.

Posted by: edari2 | June 25, 2010 2:06 PM
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"Whether one agrees with his actions or not, the most important principle the president demonstrated was that a leader has to step up to the toughest decisions."

What the f' is this garbage? Like Obama had a choice. That story hit the media airwaves like a freaking tsunami. Personally, I think he made the completely wrong decision. You don't fire your top general in the middle of a pitched conflict over a couple unflattering comments to a Rolling Stones reporter. If you want to show real leadership, you put McChrystal in his place by ripping him a new one, re-assert authority, and send his butt back over there to finish the job. This looks like running away from the situation to me. This is the third "On Leadership" article I've read and it's a total joke. Nothing but pro-Obama propaganda.

Posted by: peterg73 | June 25, 2010 1:34 PM
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