Rule #1: Don’t Publicly Criticize Your Boss

It’s never a good idea to criticize your boss in public. It’s an even worse idea to talk about him or her to the media. If you do, don’t be surprised if you get fired. You were asking for it.

General McChrystal Meeting with President Obama

For the last two days, I have watched with amazement as the drama with Gen. Stanley McChrystal has unfolded. Before this happened, I don’t think I even knew his name. In case you’re in the same position, let me provide a little background.

A little more than a year ago, President Obama appointed Gen. McChrystal to lead the war effort in Afghanistan. He is a graduate of West Point and spent the five years before his current appointment running the Pentagon’s most secretive “black ops.” He is renowned for saying out loud what other military officers are afraid to even think—one of the reasons President Obama cited as the rationale for appointing him.

But this time he went too far. He gave a series of interviews to Rolling Stone magazine [warning: vulgar language] in which he criticized several prominent officials in the Administration, including the Vice President and even the President himself.

Here are few excerpts:

  • He dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state “Chaos-istan.”
  • He said that Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass.
  • He revealed that Obama, his new boss, didn’t even meet with him until four months after his appointment. He dismissively referred to that meeting as a “10-minute photo op.”
  • He said Obama “didn’t seem very engaged” and was disappointed in his response to the war.
  • He goes on to criticize officials in the State Department and the White House. It’s clear that he thinks everyone except those on his own team are idiots. He knows best. Everyone else should get out of his way.

I have seen this attitude many times in my career. Believe me. I understand the frustration. I have worked for plenty of knuckleheads and been tempted to criticize them publicly myself. But I have never seen it result in anything positive. As Solomon observed millennia ago,

Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20, NKJV)

People in authority eventually find out. And when they do, you might discover you are not so indispensable after all. As a result, I will be shocked—and, frankly, disappointed—if the President doesn’t fire Gen. McChrystal.

If you have a problem with your boss, let me suggest an alternative approach:

  1. Give your boss the benefit of the doubt. Your perspective is limited. You are only seeing one side of the issue. Maybe you have misunderstood. You never go wrong by assuming the best.
  2. Don’t speak negatively of your boss in public. As a leader, you are setting an example. If you criticize your boss, your people will criticize you. You will replicate your behavior. Don’t sow the seeds of disloyalty or even discontent.
  3. Meet with your boss in private and state your concerns. Do it with courage, candor, and respect. If he’s a competent leader, he will listen carefully and act appropriately. Even if he or she doesn’t, you have done the honorable thing.
  4. If you disagree with your boss’s direction and feel deeply about it, then resign. The cowardly thing is to “bite the hand that feeds you.” Either support the boss publicly or find somewhere else to work.

This really comes down to a matter of integrity. Even if your boss is incompetent, you have the duty to respect him (see Romans 13:1–7). If you can’t do that, you need to resign. Speaking out publicly, while you are still employed, is not an option.

Questions: Have you ever faced this predicament? How did you respond?
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  • FriarWade

    Have I ever faced this predicament? YES
    How did I respond? POORLY

    I had just graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. I was working as an associate pastor in charge of the music, praise & worship, serving as youth pastor, and was just about to be made responsible for the finances of the church. (My undergraduate was in Financial Management & Computer Data Processing.)

    There had been some questions raised by some of the elders as to the whereabouts of certain "designated" funds and other areas of concern. One Sunday night prior to the evening worship service, the pastor assembled the staff, elders and other leaders for a "question and answer" meeting. I really didn't want to be there and reminded myself to keep my mouth shut. But alas, that didn't happen.

    After one elderly "elder," who was trying to hold back the tears as he was reading off a few questions for the pastor, was continually being interrupted by this much younger pastor. I spoke up. "Will you please just allow the man to read his questions?" I asked, feeling like a defender of the weak. But it just didn't stop there.

    The pastor gave a spiel about Moses and Korah and how they were all in rebellion. I spoke again, "Well that's the trouble with this church. You're running it like it's in the Old Covenant!" I don't remember much after that, except that it was time to go "praise the Lord!" (Yeah, right!)

    On Tuesday when I arrived for staff meeting, I was greeted with, "What are you doing here? Didn't you get the letter?" Fortunately, they just happened to have an extra copy on hand for me to read, informing me that I had been relieved of all administrative responsibilities…"

    The church didn't survive. The pastor finally left and turned the "ministry" over to someone else.

    But I was wounded. Looking back, I can only speculate as to what would have happened if I had just zipped the lip. But then maybe I would have been put in charge of the finances and open to suspicion. However, I believe that I should have opted for a more controlled response. So many times I've "gotten up on my high horse," feeling satisfied and justified because I stood for my principles, only later to discover that the manner in which I stood totally discredited my principles.

    Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have so been there. I call it, “hoof-in-mouth disease.” It’s so easy to think that being right justifies it. In fact, being self-righteous has almost always resulted in pride and me getting in trouble!

      By the way, firing someone by a letter is another one of pet peeves. I plan to write on the proper way to fire someone soon.

      Thanks for your input.

  • Paul

    If only the English and French football teams had seen this article…

    • PaulSteinbrueck

      LOL! :D

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  • Geoff Webb

    I agree, Mike; he should be fired – and not allowed to resign. But, he didn't create this mess all by himself.

    As a West Point grad myself and former Army officer, part of me was shocked by the article and part of me wasn't surprised at all. I was shocked for two reasons. 1. I was shocked that our commander on the ground in Afghanistan couldn't anticipate the fallout that giving an interview like this would create. This shows a surprising lack of strategic insight. 2. I was also shocked that a general forgot what we all learned as lieutenants: except when asked to do something immoral or unethical, support the chain of command. This is just a lack of discipline.

    On the other hand, I wasn't surprised that General McChrystal got himself in trouble by what he said – after all, that's why they hired him, right? I'm not saying it was wrong to choose someone who has a reputation for expressing fierce opinions and had been getting results for years working outside the realm of public scrutiny. All I'm saying is don't be surprised when he says what he really thinks to whomever he wants. By promoting him (without a proper in-brief) the President tacitly reinforced his behavior – weaknesses and all.

    Your four recommendations are spot on by the way; and, incidentally, they're in line with what the Army's best leaders do every day. We only hear about the exceptions!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the reminder that he is the exception. I know this is true. My wife comes from a military family. Her father worked at the Pentagon, and all the officers I know understand and practice this basic rule.

      It is scary to think that someone who lacks this kind of simple judgement is running the war effort. Probably not for long.

      By the way, as you probably know, this isn’t the first time this General has gotten into trouble. It's a miracle he’s survived his other political gaffs.

  • @blfarris

    Early in my career I made this mistake. Instead of firing me, my boss did me a big favor and helped me to learn this lesson. He told me all the things that I knew nothing about that were keeping him from acting in the way that I wanted. He showed me how limited my view was and in the process I saw how much more complex the issue was when viewed from his chair.

    Now I'm careful to always say to myself, "No matter how it looks, that person rose to that place by being smart, working hard and having a track record of success. He may look dumb to me right now, but he deserves my respect. He's earned it." This has saved me from many similar errors, and has allowed me to learn to see the complexities from their viewpoint. It's made me a better follower and a better leader.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You were very blessed to have someone of this caliber leading you!

    • @BrettCohrs

      Read this comment after writing mine. I should have just 'dittoed' here. The biggest thing I've learned after working in different organizations is that there are often reasons why certain systems or procedures are in place. While maybe some fresh perspective might be helpful to entrenched leadership, I don't earn the right to be heard by complaining, but by submitting and respecting.

  • patriciazell

    Yes, I have faced a similar situation, except my boss wasn't incompetent. In this case, we looked at things from two different perspectives, and I was directly impacted by the decisions made. I didn't complain or gossip, but prayed a lot. I believe God works things out for everyone's good, so this circumstance gave me a chance to put my faith to the test.

    • RickK

      You couldn’t resist, could you?

      • patriciazell

        I'm not sure what you mean.

  • @BrettCohrs

    On a smaller scale, I've never been in an organization with which I've agreed with everything: whether it be leadership philosophy, operating procedures, or general corporate culture. There is always a tendency to criticize. The struggle is learning how to (a) leverage the good parts of the organization to further the mission and goals, (b) submitting graciously to leadership on the items that seem not to make sense, while (c) developing the rapport with the leadership to voice concerns in a way that will be heard. One thing I know is that when I've developed a habit of belly-aching, my productivity recedes, and I run the risk of affecting others' morale. If my ideas are so great, eventually, with the correct attitude and respect, they'll be heard. (Assuming the organization isn't completely dysfunctional).

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you also get more of what you focus on. I once had an incompetent boss but focused on his positive traits with my colleagues and subordinates. Pretty soon, other people started noticing and chimed in themselves. It very positively affected morale.

  • ronedmondson

    Great post. I think we've all done this and, if in a leadership position, had this done to us. Your points are great and I agree that this general crossed the line of authority and should be fired. As one commenter said, this is very unusual for a soldier, especially this well trained. I saw a 60 minutes interview with General McChrystal months ago and the theme of the interview was his boldness. Obviously, this time he went too far.

    Living in a military town with so many soldier friends currently in Afghanistan, I talk to someone from there weekly. My main hope at this point is that this will not become a distraction in the war and progress being made. I hope the political posturing will cease and good decisions can be made going forward. I hope they leave politics at the White House today. I'm concerned for the safety and successful mission of my friends and all those who are simply doing their work. God bless our troops and their families at home.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ron. Amen to your sentiment. I too hope the President can move quickly and get this behind us.

  • Gregg Fraley

    Couldn't agree more. It is one of the risks of having ideas of your own, that is, they will be different from the powers that be. If those powers don't want to hear it, in spite of thoughtful presentation, good research, etc. then it's a great indication that it's time to move on. Many of us, and I think McChrystal is in this camp, haven't done the hard work necessary to get their ideas in front of people who might make changes if convinced. It's not enough to have great ideas, you need to sell them.

    It is quite frustrating to have to bite your tongue over a long period of time. Really stressful actually, and you'll pay a price if you don't find a way to express yourself in a positive way. Talking down the boss is just another way of saying "I'm angry, fire me."

    • Michael Hyatt

      Totally agree. If someone doesn’t buy what I am selling, I don’t blame them. I blame myself and work harder to make the sale.

  • Leslie

    Mike-I read the article just now and to your excerpts I did not see what you saw. I understand your point–that it is not good to criticize a boss and that, of course, is very true. But I respectfully take issue with the examples that you cite. For example, the "chaos-istan" remark was from an incident last fall where General McChyrstal had given his opinion around Mr. Biden's counter-terrorism approach. He was summoned to see the president and the remarks were discussed. End of story–this is history-no need to rehash.
    The "Obama looked uncomfortable" was "according to sources" and not a direct quote from General McChyrstal as you report. The "photo-op" remark was from an advisor–not directly from the general. The "didn't seem engaged" comment was also attributed to an advisor. Lastly, the criticisms you mention seem to come from aids and staff–not the general himself. My impression of the article is that it is a narrative based on undocumented sources and hearsay. I think it is unfair to take words from an unnamed source as being what the general actually said.
    A general needs to have a lot of self-confidence and self-assurance. That general needs to have a staff and a support system beyond compare. In fact, a direct quote from him says that he would die for them. I like the fact that he has his own opinions and speaks his own mind. What I don't like is the venue he chose, but the missing piece here is how the interview was presented to him. The actual article might have been a huge surprise to him when he read it. It might be totally different to what he thought it would be. In my opinion, it is not uncommon for journalists to mis-state things and mis-represent scenarios.
    Bottom line–it is not clear what the general is actually guilty of–based on this poorly documented article. I hope he doesn't have to fall on his sword without being given a fair chance to refute the article.

    • Doug

      Leslie, after hearing news reports all day yesterday of the inflammatory remarks General McChrystal had made about the President, I was quite surprised to see how innocuous they were when I actually read the article last night. And I can't help but recall those instances when generals were highly critical of President Bush and his war strategy, they were being "heroic" for "speaking truth to power".

      • Leslie

        You are so right. President Bush put up with a lot of criticism and second guessing from the generals and I don't recall anyone speaking out against their insubordination.
        As things have evolved over the day, General McChrystal has resigned without stating his case. To me, I think he took the high road–his reasons are his own, but I admire his not creating more fodder for the press.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Notice that the general did not take issue with the accuracy of the report or challenge it. He knew he was out of line and resigned. To me, that says it all. Where there's smoke, there's fire.

      • Leslie

        I doubt that he wanted to prolong the inevitable–he knew it was a done deal. I don't think his lack of challenging the article equates to guilt.

        • Michael Hyatt

          You might be right. But if it was my reputation, and I didn't say it, and my legacy was at stake … I'd fight for it.

  • @kevinowens4

    I agree with most of your post. I would prefer to see the General resign as an indication and acknowledgement that he knows what he did was wrong. But whether by firing or resignation, I don't see how he can continue to lead the President's war effort in Afghanistan.
    I did view the article a little differently, though. It appeared to me that many of the really negative statements were made by the General's staff and attributed to the General. I see that as worse. It appears the General has created a culture of second guessing and disrespect to the chain of command that goes well beyond his personal feelings about his bosses or their positions on strategy. This will have a terrible negative effect in any work environment, especially one in which the primary aim is to win a war.
    By all accounts, this General may be the right person to lead this Afghanistan campaign. He seems imminently qualified and I imagine his soldiers would follow him anywhere. Unfortunately, there are some things that are too difficult to get past, and I believe this is one of them.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It is sad. It remains me of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was a brilliant military mind. He just crossed the line—the one thing you can’t have in the military and be effective.

  • John Richardson

    One of the things that this episode has brought to light is the need to bring in competent leaders. I have had the pleasure of working for a few McChrystal's in my career and I can say that their lack of listening skills and know-it-all attitudes have caused major problems. It is so important in the interview process to find leaders that can build up, listen, and move forward.

    I guess the lesson here is… if you bring in a pit bull, don't be surprised if someone gets bit!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I could right an entire post on what President Obama did wrong as a leader. I would start with the fact that he appointed the man without ever having met him, let alone interviewed him.

      The pit bull analogy is spot-on.

  • Lawrence W. Wilson

    Great tips, and here is another idea: Support your boss even when he or she is not effective so that you can be in a position to bring change. Whining and sniping never gets your agenda across. Developing trust puts you in a position to be heard and given authority to act.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree. I have worked this way myself.

  • Gary Walter

    It's so hard when one's greatest strengths are also their greatest weakness. From the reports I've heard, McChrystal was a pretty sharp dude – and even your post mentions that Obama hired him because of his willingness to be, um, "transparent."

    Several years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I had a leader going around and saying things to others about my leadership style, methods, and objectives. This volunteer never spoke to me. They were in a position of high influence and were used to saying whatever they liked – or didn't, as the case may be.

    Although I haven't seen it used much with volunteers in particular, or in churches generally, I used a series of progressive discipline with this individual. First we spoke and I suggested that this approach was not conducive to an effective team. Next I brought in another leaders and the three of us spoke – but still, this influential leader was assuming they could do or say anything they wanted to.

    At last, I essentially fired this influential, volunteer leader. I don't see this happen very often in churches. It was during an evangelistic event and this individual was talking to non-member attendees and telling them what a horrible pastor I was. After pulling this person aside, I asked for their name badge and relieved them of their responsibilities on the spot.

    Addendum: A pastor who was there, a friend of mine, recently called me and related a derogatory email he received from my former leader. My friend also reminded me of the above event – which I had essentially forgotten. My pastor friend said that at the time, he was shocked with how I fired this other person, but now he sees the wisdom in what I did.

    Thanks for a good post. I hate to see good people go, but this guy dug his own grave.

  • Cyberquill

    It seems there's a bit of a conflict between the Ecclisiastes verse you cited and the commandment which ordains abstention from lying.

    Obviously, it's never a good idea to criticize one's boss if (big IF) one is planning to keep one's present job. The verse from Ecclisiastes doesn't really apply to the McChrystal matter, for the general and his aides apparently spoke to a reporter who had identified himself as such, thus they knew full-well their words would go public. No unseen bird in the air was involved here. Apparently, these guys are so frustrated with the leadership in the White House, they decided to put truth above their own job security.

    The decision to fire McChrystal must be a tough one for Obama, for it stands to reason that once relieved of his duty, the good general will do the media rounds and disclose how he really feels. Most likely, his comments in Rolling Stone—while unusually harsh—were the "diplomatic" version of his take on the civilian leadership in D.C.

    By discharging him, Obama would be turning a loose cannon even looser.

    • Michael Hyatt

      My point in quoting the verse is that if you don't criticize in your thought or in your bedroom, you certainly don't do it in public. It's an argument from the great to the lesser.

      We'll have to see on the loose cannon. Alas, you may be right. Still, I support the President on this call.

      • Cyberquill

        I support the president as well, but I am also looking forward to General McChrystal's next 60-Minutes interview—as, I'm sure, is the president. If I were McChrystal, I'd have my no-holds-barred report neatly typed up and arranged to be dispatched to every media outlet in the country just in case I suddenly and mysteriously fell down a flight of stairs and broke my neck.

        That verse from Ecclesiastes sounds like every tyrant's favorite verse. I can understand the need to clam up in order to keep one's employment, but to terminate even critical thinking with respect to one's brass reminds me of the Mandchurian Candidate and North Korea.

  • Paula

    what timing with this post, Michael.

    Our deputy Prime Minister publicly challenged and criticised (with the backing of some elements of the party) our Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) tonight. She may become our first female Prime Minster in the morning after a back-bench revolt.

    Needless to say, it’s slightly crazy here in Australia at the moment.

    However, I can’t work out how you can have the loyalty of the party (and the country) if you take leadership by overthrowing the existing leader.

    Sorry if this seems like a hi-jack, it’s totally not my intention, as I see it as very similar to what you’ve written about.

    • Michael Hyatt

      No problem. It is instructive. I wasn't aware of this situation.

  • Keith Jennings

    I have certainly faced this predicament. I'm generally known as an upbeat and energetic person, but I found myself making consistent negative comments to others about the leader in question (I believed he was avoiding risk and conflict in order to get to his retirement – hindering our organization's growth).

    For me, I had to call myself on it. I had to face the tough choice of shutting up and following, or leaving people I loved for an unknown future. I chose to leave. And it turned out to be one of the best career decisions I've made. (He made it to retirement without rocking the boat. And a lot of talented people left the org in the process.)

    On the flip side, none of us think of ourselves as the problem leader. But criticism comes with the title, doesn't it? I love how @blfarris's boss handled the situation.

  • Robby Hyche

    As a Jesus-follower I would have to agree with your assessment from a Biblical perspective and in general, yes, we have a charge to support those for whom we work. But with one caveat: when we have to obey a higher moral – or God-given – command. The Apostles in Acts 5 didn't obey the Sanhedrin. Others who have been oppressed have had to disobey the government to get justice. Here's a thought: what if the General is right? From the Gen.'s perspective, the President's lack of interest in Afghanistan amounts to a moral offense to the men and women dying on the front line. So as an ordinary citizen who knows nothing of the details, I think the Gen. has a moral obligation to reveal what is happening. In business, I had to make a couple of decisions that became very public because of a moral failure of someone I worked for. How do we know that Gen McChrystal didn't try to work it out behind the scenes before the interview? Surely as a director of a black-ops division, he knows command-and-control protocol and he would have been trained to the n-th degree on how this works. These guys don't just fall into these positions. He has his job because he KNOWS how to take orders. If a patriot, a soldier, and a politician like Gen. McChrystal thinks he needs to speak out to Rolling Stone Mag then either this man is severely demented… or he's right. Either way that scares me because that means the President is not doing HIS job either in who he is hiring or how he is conducting his business. As Truman said, "The buck stops here." It's not McChrystal's issue – it's Obama's. I don't know the truth here, but I do know there's always two sides to it.

    • Geoff Webb

      Glad you brought this up – because I wouldn't be surprised if this were the line of logic General McChrystal will use in the coming weeks to defend his actions. But here's the rub: He has not made a moral or ethical argument against the President. If you read the article, he is railing against incompetence in the administration. If, in his opinion, that incompetence has reached a level of moral irresponsibility, then McChrystal has a duty to his country and his soldiers to take action. He should either resign or refuse to execute orders on ethical or moral grounds. That would've gotten EVERYONE's attention.

      Don't be fooled – ranting to a Rolling Stone reporter about the idiots in the White House is hardly taking the moral high ground.

      • Michael Hyatt

        I totally agree with you, Geoff.

  • Scoti Domeij

    Mike, I appreciate the wisdom of your wise, biblical advice. My visceral reaction is that it's advice for office workers in cubicles who don't face losing their lives from IED's and bullets on a daily basis. The only thing that frightens me is: If McChrystal is fired, will it put at risk the life of someone close to me who's been deployed a dozen times and will be again soon?

    I could care less about Obama's ego, and even less about gaffe-prone Biden. Their blah, blah, blah wearies me. I care most about kids fighting and risking their lives and mental health in that theatre. What's best for them? Who is the best leader for them? Who do our troops support?

    I laughed at some of the things McChrystal's cohorts said. Sounds pretty honest to me. And you can't tell me that Obama's team doesn't talk the same way around the oval office. Those facing death at the hands of a ruthless enemy to protect our freedom of yadda, yadda, yadda employ macabre humor to release stress from the emotional trauma they face EVERY DAY and will suffer from the rest of their lives. Those facing a brutal enemy have little time for political posturing.

    Why do we send our sons and daughters off to war, and then disengage? Did we learn nothing from Vietnam? If I were focused on keeping the lives of my men safe (the sons and daughters of moms and dads who want them to come home in one piece), I would hope the President of the United States would take more time than a 10-minute photo op to meet with the General. Would it irk you if your boss put your people in harm's way due to lack of passion, ideology or interest? At the time, I was beyond irritated when Obama spent so little time with McChrystal.

    Is it honorable and loyal to order soldiers in harms way because civilian, political leaders lack battlefield experience other than shots from the media? Is protocol REALLY more important than the acumen McChrystal brings to leading our troops?

    Perhaps the question should be: Do our troops want to fight for Obama-Biden or McChrystal? Who do they prefer to follow? After all, it's their lives that are on the line.

    Not ours.

    (I submit my emotional comments with fear and trepidation at the response.)

    • Anthony

      I agree. As a physician, I have personally observed situations where following the "chain of command" or waiting for the appropriate "committee to convene" resulted in unnecessary suffering and worse. I can only imagine what it might be like for General McChrystal.

    • Geoff Webb

      Scoti – I love what you articulated here. And as a veteran whose friends and family are still in harms way, I sympathize with your viewpoint. But here's the thing: it's not just protocol, it's core to who we are as a nation.

      Our troops don't get to choose to fight for their President or their General – and God willing they never will. Civilian control of the military is what makes us a stable superpower. I'm as frustrated as anyone when politicians in Washington make poor military decisions. But the alternative is far, far worse.

      • Anthony

        I thought we were talking about the venting of honest opinions directly to “we the people” via an authorized media source. If anyone has disobeyed an order, or even suggested that they might, I don’t know of it. Although I shudder at the thought of comparing President Obama to King Solomon, I think we can all agree that the military must remain under civilian control. By the same token, our constitution allows for both the firing of generals and the replacement of the commander in chief. To make good decisions, we need good information. I guess we can all be thankful that Hitler didn't listen to his generals either.

        • Michael Hyatt

          Anthony, I totally agree with Geoff. And, I think you kind of missed my point. I am not suggesting that the General can't disagree with his chain of command. I am simply saying that it is inappropriate to do it publicly. If he felt strongly he should have spoken to the President not to a reporter. If the President didn't listen or he couldn't get an appointment, then he should quit. He can't both work for the man and disparage him in public.

          And by the way, I wasn't comparing the President to Solomon. I was simply citing Solomon's counsel about how we should respond to lawful authority.

          • Anthony

            Perhaps I did. I followed this blog today between cases, jumping in and out, and should not have tried to actively participate. It struck a chord with me because I have to make decisions day by day and hour by hour that profoundly impact the lives of others. Right now, Washington does not seem to be listening to generals or doctors either one. I have also served as a mission pilot in the CAP and know the frustration of a command structure that seemed out of touch as I plowed around at low altitudes over harsh terrain in a single engine airplane with a trusting crew totally dependent on me to get them back to their families. I'm glad David didn't quit when Saul wouldn't listen. By the same token, David never disparaged the man or the position. You are right. By the way, I am currently tolerating a difficult employee because they are very good at what they do. It would not be in the best interest of our clients to let that individual go. Is that not a reasonable decision for me to make.

          • Michael Hyatt

            It all depends on the culture you are trying to create. At the end of the day, culture is the behavior of the people in your organization. You may experience a short-term loss by terminating him, but you protect your long-term culture. In my view, this is the most important asset any organization has. I wouldn't sacrifice that for any client or short-term victory.

  • kevindeshazo

    Great post. I think you are spot on with this. Unfortunately I've been on both sides of this situation and handled it poorly. The two things that strike me are this:
    One, what is a war-time General doing having Rolling Stone magazine following him and his team around? This should have never been allowed. I know we live in an information-crazed world, but I think this goes too far. His job, which I think he does quite well, is to lead our soldiers. Not to have he and his team hang out with Rolling Stone.
    Two, what did President Obama expect? He was partially appointed because he "says what others are afraid to even think." If you hire opinionated, outspoken people, you know what you are getting. I'm not suggesting it was a bad hire, but you can't be disappointed when he is outspoken about his opinion. I don't even know that you can discipline him. If he does get disciplined, what does this say about President Obama's leadership?

  • Robin Arnold

    I have to wonder the perspective spin of the person doing the article? Not having read it in it's entirety, but knowing how easily one can phrase quotes and observations toward the unflattering, I'm not rushing to judgement.

    I agree with all of your points though. One shouldn't even criticize a former boss because it just as easily reflects on you. And, I believe the Lord puts us together with folks for a reason, and to learn something, which sometimes takes a couple years to realize. That said, I worked for 4 1/2 months for a church that I was not a match for the pastors, staff, or committees. I resigned. Sometimes, people are just not a match for the job.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think the key thing to note is that the General did not challenge the accuracy of the report. He accepted responsibility and resigned. I am glad he did so. Even if criticizing the President was dishonorable, resigning was the right thing to do.

  • MaurilioAmorim

    I run into the unhappy subordinate situation quite often when consulting with organizations. Interestingly, statistically people don't quit their jobs, they quit their immediate supervisor. I usually tell people they have a couple of choices when faced with a situation where they don't agree with the boss: If you made your opinion known and your boss moves in a different direction, you should either follow his or her lead, which means publicly defending the position, or you should quit your job and walk away. Any other option would be unacceptable.

    • Michael Hyatt


  • annie

    This was not a "series of interviews" in the traditional sense. Reporters from Rolling Stone were trapped overseas while the volcanic eruption in Iceland prevented their return home. They were protected by & developed relationships with McChrystal &, even moreso, his men & aides, to whom many of the quotes are vaguely attributed. A lot of the most damaging quotes (there are remarkably few) in this article aren't even pretending to be attributed to McChrystal. While even aides & advisores need to tighten the reins on their mouths, so does the White House. Instead of watching a public drama play out, in which "all options are on the table" & the president is "angry", we should have been told that it's an internal military matter, & will be handled as such. We would all be hurt & angry, but great leaders evaluate criticism, even if it wasn't intended necessarily as constructive. In the end, it isn't about McChrystal or Obama. Hopefully, these two leaders can learn from each other, because in the end it's about war & people dying, & those people deserve great leadership at all levels.

  • Andy

    I have a feeling all the things that were said were on the money but instead of telling his boss that he told everyone else. ‘Good initiative; bad judgement’ as we said in the Corps. However, I think the real test of leadership for both of them is how this is handled going further. Will Obama let him go…probably. Will the General get to voice his experienced advice and opinion before that happens…probably not. Would Obama listen to the advice, based on what I have seen of his leadership…highly doubtful.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Great advice for young bucks and seasoned professionals alike. It's easy to get caught up in my immediate circumstances and not act with discretion.

  • Jared Brandon

    Another perfectly timed post… Thanks Michael. I made a mistake like this yesterday. More along the lines of "calling out" my boss on a topic I felt he was being untruthful about, but my coworkers were present. It didn't get as ugly as it could have, thankfully. But I learned a very quick and humbling lesson that there is a distinct difference between reacting and responding. I reacted out of years of frustration coming to a head. Words delivered in anger are like broken arrows, and I know that had I responded appropriately, I could have had an opportunity to resolve an issue that has weighed on me for years.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’ve done it myself—and lived to regret it. Thankfully, it was never fatal.

  • Marc Millan

    "You never go wrong by assuming the best"……I really believe in that.
    If you cannot follow the leader, have integrity as you say here and speak with the leadership and step down, lead somewhere else, YOU end up looking bad in the end really.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I just hate that his career had to end this way. By all accounts, he served his country honorably until this last assignment.

  • melanie gao

    Good bosses can take feedback in context, even if it comes in the form of public insults. I hope the President will look past the hurtful nature of some of the comments and hear what General McChrystal was really trying to say.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think we have to issues here. Certainly, the President can learn from this situation. However, I don’t think he has a choice. He must protect the integrity of his command. You can’t win a war without alignment. This doesn’t mean there isn't room for debate. There is. But it should not be done in public.

  • @sahaynes

    I find myself staring at the General's uniform in this picture and I can't seem to put all my thoughts together on either side of this situation. The Wisdom of Solomon cannot be denied and I agree with your post but look at the ribbons on this man's chest. Look at the stars on his shoulders. Was this a gaff? A man with that much hardware on his uniform doesn't seem the type to not consider the consequences of an interview with himself and his staff.
    Sure he has a history. He's opinionated. He seems to have a disregard for career politicians. All that just sounds like a career military man.
    So I find myself staring at the General's uniform in this picture and wondering; if it wasn't a gaff, what was it? We may never know. Maybe he thought it was a way to draw attention to a situation he thought needed more publicity. Maybe it was politically charged. Maybe he smelled a book deal. He wouldn't be the first general to supplement his retirement income with a tell-all. No matter what it was, I would expect a general to set a better example.

  • MichaelSGray

    Rule #2: If you're the ranking general of an in-progress conflict, don't allow your press secretary to convince you that letting an anti-war, Rolling Stone reporter hang out with your inner circle for a month is a good publicity idea. What were they thinking?

    I agree with most of what you're saying, and I'm not particularly interested in defending the mess McChrystal has allowed himself to get into. However, I do think its important to be clear on the point that most of the harsh criticisms of the Obama administration were made public by others on McChrystal's staff, not by McChrystal himself. So much of the article is quoting advisers or "sources familiar with the meeting", that sort of thing.

    For leaders, this highlights the importance of aligning your private life with your public life. If you are one way in public and another with your inner circle, you run the risk of having both sides collide. The more you can minimize the discrepancy between the two, the better your chance at preserving your integrity.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, leaders create culture by their behavior. People will imitate them. The reason his staff felt the freedom to criticize and mock is either because they saw their own boss do it or he let them get away with it. Either way, it's bad leadership.

  • Lola J. Lee Beno

    His boss is a very, very poor Commander-in-Chief. If that weren't the case, all this would never have happened. Just saying.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Maybe. But I don't think that excuses breaking the chain of command.

  • Lindsay @

    I have just walked this road as a staff member at my former church. After witnessing the epitome of bad leadership for several years, my husband and I made the choice to resign from our positions as worship leaders and handle our matters privately with the senior pastor. Now that we've seen his reaction to our decisions, we are sure we will not be re-joining that faith family. However, we feel positive and thankful about our decision to respect and protect our leader with our actions. The unity of the faith family at the church has been protected (as much as possible), and we are excited to see where God is taking us next.

  • melissa

    Thanks so much for this post! I am currently in a difficult situation and I have been "sounding off". Everyone around me has heard my disdainful comments. uh oh…
    What I am learning, though, is that God is much less concerned about the boss and his abilities than He is about my attitude and heart. Even after the toughest moments, I know God is asking me if I can pray for that person, in a loving way. Can I treat that person as a beloved creation of God? It can be pretty difficult. The beauty of the situation is that sometimes, when we allow our hearts to be softened, God may give us a bit more perspective on the issue. I am then reminded that this life is so not about me…and so much about how God wants to use me in this world to convey his love and grace.

    I think your points are right on…and I will be recalling them until I am able to move on to another opportunity!

  • Richard Mabry

    Mike, Excellent take on a thorny issue. I don't agree with Mr. Obama's actions in so many ways, but I still recall taking my commissioning oath as an Air Force officer. You don't salute the man, you salute the office. You don't necessarily agree with the orders, but you carry them out. And if you disagree, you don't take your argument to the media. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen. I disagree with the President on numerous things, but I support him in this.

  • @theCRICKETtoy

    My father worked for a government agency on the border of Minnesota/Canada when I was a child (about 40 years ago now). There was a situation that arose up there with one of the guys he worked for (supervisor) who did something really dumb and Dad decided to hang him out to dry. As Dad describes it, "I didn't handle it well."

    Over 15 years later, Dad is still working for this company in panhandle of Florida and this guy ends up becoming in charge of the state of Florida (supervisor). A situation arose and Dad's entire office was skipped for promotions completely because of the way Dad responded/treated him over 15 years earlier.

    My Dad always tells me to use the "Golden Rule" principle of business and relationships and you'll be better off. He tells me that he could have handled the situation in a much better way, but he was young, cocky and he was 'right.' Because of his decision, his entire office dealt with it many years later.

    I'm so grateful for the hard lessons my Dad learned that he humbly shared (and shares) with me to help me not make the same mistakes.

  • olivier blanchard

    Great post.

    I’m not sure what the General was thinking. As a senior officer with a distinguished career, the guy should be no stranger to any of this. As a military man especially, criticizing your superior (especially in a public forum) is at the very least career suicide. It just isn’t done.

    In the civilian world, same thing. If you disagree with your boss that much and respect him so little, then the best thing to do is resign and go look for another company to work for. You NEVER criticize your boss in public. Or your company. Or your direct co-workers. Unless you are so outraged by their behavior that you make a point to speak up as you resign – probably for moral reasons. And even so, the proper thing to do is to simply resign and move on.

    Your four bits of advice are spot on. Great post.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Oliver. I agree. That's why I called it Rule #1. Most soldiers learn this lesson in boot camp.

  • indrietta

    Yes, I faced this predicamen. I have tried your number 3 suggestion. I met my leader and state my concerns.
    Well, at least I know I have done the honorable thing. Thank you for writing this article. God bless you.

  • Randy Elrod


    Great post! I also made this mistake as a young 28 year old and although I didn't get fired, I lived to regret the hurt that my poor decision caused.

    As my career advanced, I quickly found myself as the boss, having to let go someone who criticized me publicly. As I felt the hurt and dismay, it helped me realize the truth of that compelling verse in Ecclesiastes.

    Your points are well taken.



    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Randy. I had almost the exact experiences.

  • Michael Hyatt

    I disagree. The general created this culture. Leaders have to take responsibility for the attitude of those around him. If he had acted with honor toward the President, the reporter would not have had a story.

    • annie

      I don't think I defended McChrystal's bevavior. I pointed out that his leader has behaved similarly, and that many of the comments attributed to him in the press and in conversations aren't even attributed to him in the article. I didn't assert his innocence or wisdom, or say that he shouldn't face consequences. Are you sure this response was meant for me?

      • Michael Hyatt

        Yes. Maybe I misunderstood, but it sounds like you are saying that these quotes weren’t attributed to the General but to his staff. I am saying that he is responsible, nonetheless. He created the culture that exists around him.

        If the White House has exhibited inappropriate behavior, that doesn't justify the General’s behavior or his staff’s. You can’t justify your own bad behavior by pointing to someone else’s bad behavior.

        Thanks for your input.

  • davidbmc

    Great post. My favorite question is, "Have you talked with them about it?"

    I had someone in my office yesterday complaining about their boss. When I asked them that question they left my office in a huff. For some reason most people do not want to deal directly with disagreements or misunderstandings.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think it really comes down to courage. No doubt, the general is a brave man, but in this case he didn’t manifest it.

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  • Dan

    When I was told by my mother something I had done wrong I would ask, "How did you know?" She would say, "A little birdie told me so."

  • FriarWade

    and a final comment for the night…

    Someone once told me, concerning submission & authority, that we are not in submission to someone who has authority over us, unless we think that they are wrong. Otherwise we are just in agreement with authority. But there's a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning!

    Thanks for your insightful posts!

    Fr. Wade+
    Lakeland, FL

  • Shawneda Crout Marks

    I have always and will always cite Rom 13: 1-7 when it comes to authority. It is also the scripture I reference when people would criticize Bush and now Obama. In the past I did not criticize my boss, I prayed for them.

    • Anthony

      Context is everything. What if you were a German living under Hitler or a Russian under Stalin? What if the local authorities requested a detailed list of your Jewish acquaintances … be sure and include all the children? What if President Obama decides that America’s support of Israel comes at too high a price? Or that your church is nothing more than a private club with tax sheltered dues? What … you don’t let the local Imam address your preschool department once a month? Can’t we all just get along? These are not easy questions amenable to simple answers. I know … snarky. This won’t be up very long. Sorry Michael. I very much respect what you do. Acts 5:29

  • Brendan

    I thought the most important quote from the article was this: “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.” I wish the author would have followed up on it.

    It seems apparent that the COIN strategy isn’t working in Afghanistan. I wonder if this realization either led to this display of poor judgement by the General or even if he was trying to get himself dismissed from the job.

  • annie

    I just meant that he should be held responsible for what he actually did (which is the culture you have outlined), not for what he didn't do (hold a series of formal interviews in which he gave direct quotes – it is incredibly vague in the article). I don't mean that the White House's behavior justifies anything, but am hopeful that they will learn from it, as responding to bad leadership with more bad leadership only increases chaos and decreases confidence. Sorry if that was confusing.

  • Justin Braden

    This was a great post. I’m very happy I read it because it got me up to date with what was going on :)

    Your post are always great though Mr. Hyatt

  • Carla Brogden

    I am faced often with the opportunity to criticize my employer when my client is unhappy with someone above me but I am the one in the service position. I have to be very careful to listen to what is being asked or stated and to say, "I don't discuss those things but I can tell you who to call if you want to express those things." It can be tough but it is the best policy.

    as for MyChrystal, yep, he was not happy from the beginning and has made that known. but also, the President knew he was outspoken and stated that as one of the reasons he was picked so now that has happened the President doesn't like it. So which pot is calling the kettle black?

    McChrystal likely did try to talk to Obama alone but it is well known and widely reported that he was not given much time or attention as is the President's pattern so far, so it seems to be his way of bringing attention to a serious problem in leadership. not really the best way but look how many are talking and noticing now–apparently McChyrstal was willing to give up his job to make the point.

    Public or private criticism of an employer is never good policy, it always comes back to bite you. As great grandma used to say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." In music silence makes the largest impact. More of us need to learn the lesson of loud silence.

  • Laurinda

    I love points 3 & 4! I have often wondered why people don't do this. It seems to be human nature to not confront and then try to gather a consensus with others. People should care enough to confront.

    Great post.

  • TeriRN

    When my husband and I saw that Gen. McChrystal had "resigned" aka fired. We knew it was the right thing, no matter how much we dislike the direction this President is taking the country. My husband is a retired petty officer and he commented from the first day that just like Truman had to fire MacArthur, Obama needs to fire McChrystal. I learned in one job the valuable lessons you list in your post, unfortunately after I "shot my mouth off". By God's grace I did not lose my job, but I did lose my boss's trust and respect. Something I pray I never do again.
    My husband has also been in a similar predicament and too responded poorly. What made it worse for him and myself is it was with the pastor of the church he worked at and related to something that the pastor did we felt was unchristian. My husband thought he had handled his disagreement appropriately, but the pastor didn't accept any questioning of what he does. That's where my husband reacted wrong. He acted a lot like Gen. McChrystal in shooting off his mouth to the wrong people. He too had to learn the lessons of your post the hard way.
    Thanks for posting to remind me how to be a good employee and to let every one know how we should act towards those God has put over us.

  • Jim Lewis

    There comes a time in every leader's life when he or she faces criticism. Yes, one must correct and discipline those who criticize in the wrong manner; even terminate open insubordination. What one must never do is ignore it. For within every criticism lies a kernel of truth that must be embraced. So, before Obama kicks a** today he needs to do the one thing that is the most difficult . . . Listen to General McChrystal. He should take notes and thank the General as he leaves; then close the door and contemplate how to correct his own leadership and his staff's. Then step up to the podium and take responsibility for his own issues and appoint someone who will criticize him privately. And then start acting as a Commander in Chief. (but he didn't)

    Yes, I have been there — and went through the process with a dysfunctional board and finally resigned. I have had staff criticize me behind my back and to my face . . . and had attempted to see the truth in it. But the line of insubordination cannot be crossed — or else. It undermines authority and respect. I agree with the General’s assessment of the President. He is someone I would not serve, nor fall on my sword for.

  • Martin

    How did Solomon know about Twitter??

    I think the temptation to criticize your boss is always there, given the perception that you expect more from them(they are the boss). I've always been disappointed in speaking against a boss publicly, especially in a military setting. The first core value for the Army is loyalty and if you break that value with the Commander in Chief(President Obama) how do you keep it with anyone else?

  • RpJ

    As a former "boss", I think President Obama could have handled things in a different manner.
    1. Criticizing the employee (Gen. McChrystal) in publc before talking with him is poor behavior for a manager. It never helps to denigrate an employee before or after you talk to him. This leaves no room for resolving the problem and dimishes one's stature in the eyes of other employees. In my opinion, no member of the administration should have talked about the situation to reporters, and should have been told to issue a "no comment" statement when asked about it.
    2. Firing an employee is never easy. But the way to do it is without a lot of fanfare, and talk.
    3. President Obama could use a few lessons in basic management and human relations.
    4. He had to relieve him of the command if he couldn't resolve the problem, and he couldn't because he had already discussed the general's judgement.

  • Alan R

    An opinion voiced on an LA radio station this morning as possible explanation of the actions of McChrystal:
    1) Exit from an impossible to win situation.
    2) Launch political career.
    It wouldn't be first time that "politcal strategy" veered from Biblical principles.
    It will be interesting to see how this works for him.

    Have you contacted him for a book deal?

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is already in discussions with a publisher.

  • Jim Martin

    This story reminds me of just how tragic such moments are. McChrystal showed an amazing lack of self-discipline. Certainly his comments and interview with Rolling Stone were out of bounds.

    Part of the tragedy here (and perhaps a lesson to be learned) involves his competency in other areas. From everything I've read about the General, he was a very, very capable person.

    Those of us who are Christian leaders (I include myself here) would do well to remember that competency in some areas does not make up for misbehavior in other areas. I have known a number of Christian leaders who were capable and competent in so many ways, but who lost the confidence of people because of what they said in unguarded moments. These moments often reflect a lack of good judgement and maybe more.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with everything you have said, Jim.

  • Jack Kilms

    Hmmm, what about honesty, integrity and being true to yourself. Sometimes you have to take one for the team as the General has done

    He was in the best position to judge and he did. History will judge the whole thing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      In every relationship, there comes a time when you disagree with the other party. That's only natural. It's what you do with it that matters. You can either talk TO the other person or ABOUT the other person. Gen. McChrystal chose the latter. While he may have been honest, I don’t believe he acted with integrity.

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  • AndrewComings

    I think I saw a reference to this in one of your replies, but it bears repeating…the parallels between this situation and the MacArthur/Truman conflict are fascinating.

    If McChrystal had learned from MacArthur's mistakes, and Obama had learned from Truman's mistakes, this might never have happened.

  • Joseph

    While I agree that General did commit a mistake, do we have a failing leader? Didn't Paul openly criticize Peter for failing to provide leadership?

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  • roband06

    This article gave me a different perspective on leadership. One example I have is criticizing coaches and officials. I use to criticize both all the time until I was in those positions. Boy is it different when you’re on stage. Everybody has an opinion but most don’t see what goes on behind closed doors as the saying goes.

  • Scoti Springfield Domeij

    My son was an Army Ranger, who was killed on his 14th deployment — the most deployed soldier in American history to be killed in action. When this event happened, I read the Rolling Stone article — always check the original source, not media reports, and use critical thinking skills to come to your own conclusion. My conclusion differed from yours. I concluded that it was not grounds for firing. At the time, I hoped that Mr. Obama would put on his big boy pants and do what was best for the soldiers at the tip of the spear.

    Politics ALWAYS trumps over the lives of our soldiers.

    Obama’s firing of General McCrystal, also an Army Ranger, (IMHO) endangered my son’s life and the life of every soldier deployed to Afghanistan. At the time you wrote this post, I was offended by your comment: “As a result, I will be shocked—and, frankly, disappointed—if the President doesn’t fire Gen. McChrystal.” It’s important not to believe the Koolaid or quote the Koolaid. Quoting the Koolaid made a powerful point about leadership, but it disparaged someone who apparently did not make the statements the liberal writer penned for Rolling Stone.

    After a DOD investigation [] what the writer wrote could not be verified or was misquoted. I’ve heard from sources, that I cannot officially document, that Obama issued a private apology to General McCrystal.

    Hmmm…wonder why?

    To quote one who wore the uniform: “He [McCrystal] never once pointed a finger, blamed someone else, or screamed that he had been misquoted. Instead he stood tall, apologized for words that while not his, came from his party, and was promptly fired by one bruised ego.”

    Because General McCrystal did not react, defend the accusations and misquotes attributed to him or take revenge or air grievances to the media,”his name was well received by the White House” to lead First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden’s three-member advisory board supporting military families, dubbed “Joining Forces.”

    Hmmm…wonder why?

    “I’m so proud that General McChrystal will continue to serve our country through this critical effort to support our nation’s military families,” First Lady Michelle Obama says in a statement, “He will be a unique and powerful advocate for the millions of Americans who serve our country selflessly. This program will build upon our nation’s great patriotism by asking all Americans to take action and ensure our military families have the support they have earned. General McChrystal will be a powerful leader in this cause.”

    While your tips on integrity ring true, the argument for it was based on “facts” that you could not possibly know or prove to be true. And you believed the shill of Michael Hastings, a man with an ax to grind — taking part in the media wildfire that overshadowed and diminished his reputation and 34 years of exemplary service?

    Hmmm…wonder why?

    My mother taught me: Consider the source.

    Michael Hastings also wrote: “All these men,” he tells me. “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me,” [“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Hohn 15:13] and that’s the kind of leader I’d prefer to work with and for. But they are in short supply.

    Perhaps we need more leaders who are not afraid to say “out loud what other military officers are afraid to even think.” That, to me, is REAL leadership — and the REAL story.