Gen. Stanley McChrystal said a leader should be a gardener. That isn’t necessarily something you’d expect to hear from McChrystal, a retired United States Army four-star general, and former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command and International Security Assistance Force.

But McChrystal, the keynote speaker for the Insurance Information Institute 2019 Joint Industry Forum in New York City on Jan. 17, told his audience that corporate and other leaders should look to gardeners for inspiration.

McChrystal highlighted a video image of the late former President Dwight Eisenhower, in his days as a five-star U.S. Army general during World War II, barking at the troops. McChrystal said that is what he once thought a leader should be like, but gardeners offer a more effective model for today’s leaders because of all the nuanced things they do.

“Gardeners prepare ground. They plant. They water. They feed. They weed. They protect at the appropriate time. They harvest,” McChrystal said.

In essence, McChrystal said that gardeners create an entire ecosystem or environment where plants can fulfill their missions, and leaders can and should take the same approach.

“You’re not in charge the same way [and] not celebrated as the center of the circus. You’re enabling the organization,” McChrystal said.

With this approach, McChrystal added, “You can enable an extraordinarily positive outcome and I think that’s where we need to go today.”