On Thursday, April 15, 2021, General Stanley A. McChrystal ’72 returned to St. John’s virtually to speak with the Cadet Corps seniors.
As he reflected on his time on campus, he fondly remembered Branson Ferry, his math teacher and baseball coach, who took the time to mentor him as a young Cadet. It was through this relationship that one of McChrystal’s foundational beliefs started to be formed – that people are the priority in any organization.
McChrystal continued his course as a cadet after graduation, attending the United States Military Academy at West Point before embarking on a distinguished career as an Army infantry officer. His trajectory continued to climb over the next 34 years until he was selected as the Commander of International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan and retired a four-star general in 2010.
A New York Times best-selling author, McChrystal noted that society has a tendency to study leadership very two dimensionally. He said, “Leadership is very contextual – it’s the environment, the nature of the followers and the contributions of the leader.” A notoriously disciplined individual who ran 12 miles to his office and eats only one meal a day, he told the cadets that leaders must always be self-disciplined, committed and empathetic. In a world full of distractions, it’s more important than ever to stay true to your core values.
Core values, self-assessment and reflection are integral components of the Cadet Corps. He stated that when reflecting, leaders should ask themselves if they’re being someone that they’re proud of. Are they holding themselves to a standard that they are comfortable with? If not, then they need to commit to doing better tomorrow.
When asked to reflect on his professional journey, he paused and said, “When I think about my career and my life, I don’t think about what job I had or my rank. I remember this mosaic of faces, pictures of people that I served with. It’s the relationships. That’s what matters.” It was those personal connections that helped him succeed at St. John’s and throughout his life.