Intuitive Leadership: When Every Decision Matters with General Stan McChrystal and Alex Honnold

This week on Nasdaq’s World Reimagined podcast, we sit down with two incredible leaders to discuss risk management, learning from failure, and more. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

For most leaders, failure is not a matter of life or death. But for some, making life-or-death decisions is part of the job. What can high-risk decision-making teach us about the more ordinary and conventional risk leaders assume every day? What roles do preparation and instinct play in this process? How can leaders become better at conquering a fear of failure in order to make hard decisions?

In this episode, Host Gautam Mukunda speaks about risk and high-stake decision-making with two remarkable individuals who have spent their lives doing the impossible in the face of enormous danger. General Stan McChrystal is a retired four-star general, former Head of Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan, and the founder and CEO of the McCrystal Group. Alex Honnold is a professional adventure rock climber, who is known for his free solo ascents, most notably El Capitán as documented in the movie Free Solo.

The more often you encounter the unexpected, the more comfortable you feel with the unexpected in general. You can prepare as much as you can, but you kind of know that some random thing is always going to go sideways, but then the more often that you encounter those kinds of sideways challenges and manage them… I think you build some confidence to just know that when a situation arises you’ll figure it out quickly.

Alex Honnold

Nothing helps innovation like necessity.

General Stan McChrystal

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Books Referenced on World Reimagined Season 2, Episode 7:

Alone on the Wall, by Alex Honnold

Risk: A User’s Guide by Stanley A. McChrystal and Anna Butrico

Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Guest Information for Intuitive Leadership:

Alex Honnold is a professional rock climber whose audacious free-solo ascents of America’s biggest cliffs have made him one of the most recognized and followed climbers in the world. A gifted but hard-working athlete, Honnold is distinguished for his uncanny ability to control his fear while scaling cliffs of dizzying heights without a rope to protect him if he falls. His humble, self-effacing attitude toward such extreme risk has earned him the nickname Alex “No Big Deal” Honnold.

This Sacramento, California-native’s most celebrated achievements include the first and only free-solos of the Moonlight Buttress (5.12d, 1,200 feet) in Zion National Park, Utah, and the Northwest Face (5.12a) of Half Dome (2,200 feet), Yosemite, California. In 2012 he achieved Yosemite’s first “Triple Solo”: climbing, in succession, the National Park’s three largest faces — Mt. Watkins, Half Dome, and El Capitan — alone, and in under 24 hours. In 2017 Alex completed the first and only free-solo of El Capitan’s “Freerider” route (5.13a, 3,000 feet), a historic accomplishment that has been hailed by many as one of the greatest sporting achievements of our time. The story of this feat was told in the Academy Award-winning documentary, FREE SOLO. Whether climbing with a rope or without, Honnold believes climbing is a fantastic vehicle for adventure, an opportunity to seek out those high-test moments with uncertain outcomes in which you’re forced to push through to survive.

Though Honnold often downplays his achievements, his rope-less climbs have attracted the attention of a broad and stunned audience. He has been profiled by 60 Minutes and the New York Times, featured on the cover of National Geographic, appeared in international television commercials, and starred in numerous adventure films including the Emmy-nominated “Alone on the Wall.” He is the founder of the Honnold Foundation, an environmental non-profit. 

General Stanley A. McChrystal is a transformational leader with a remarkable record of achievement. General Stanley A. McChrystal was called “one of America’s greatest warriors” by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He is widely praised for launching a revolution in warfare by leading a comprehensive counter-terrorism organization that fused intelligence and operations, redefining the way military and government agencies interact.

The son and grandson of Army officers, McChrystal graduated from West Point in 1976 as an infantry officer, completed Ranger Training, and later Special Forces Training. Over the course of his career, he held leadership and staff positions in the Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, 82nd Airborne Division, the XVIII Army Airborne Corp, and the Joint Staff. He is a graduate of the US Naval War College, and he completed fellowships at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1997 and the Council on Foreign Relations in 2000.

From 2003 to 2008, McChrystal commanded JSOC – responsible for leading the nation’s deployed military counterterrorism efforts around the globe. His leadership of JSOC is credited with the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein and the 2006 location and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. In June 2009, McChrystal received his fourth star and assumed command of all international forces in Afghanistan.

Since retiring from the military, McChrystal has served on several corporate boards of directors that include Deutsche Bank America, JetBlue Airways, Navistar, Siemens Government Technologies, Fiscal Note, and Accent Technologies. A passionate advocate for national service, McChrystal is the Chair of the Board of Service Year Alliance, which envisions a future in which a service year is a cultural expectation and common opportunity for every young American. He is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where he teaches a course on leadership. Additionally, he is the author of the bestselling leadership books, My Share of the Task: A Memoir, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, and Leaders: Myth and Reality.

General McChrystal founded the McChrystal Group in January 2011. Recognizing that companies today are experiencing parallels to what he faced in the war theater, McChrystal established this advisory services firm to help businesses challenge the hierarchical, “command and control” approach to organizational management.