Engineering a Conversation; 4-Star General Stanley McChrystal

As engineers, we understand the power of an idea. It often starts with a conversation and goes from there. Inspiration comes from conspiration. An idea with nowhere to go is no idea at all. That’s precisely why we value our conversations as engineers. We inspire one another, reach new understandings, and push ourselves farther when we “talk it out.”

This philosophy is one of the reasons we wanted to sponsor someone with equally big ideas and an identical urge to share them. Retired 4-star General Stanley McChrystal fit that bill completely, so we partnered with MSU to invite him to speak. The event went off without a hitch, but it was all in part to do with our collaboration with MSU and the great people behind the planning.

Inspiring Words Inspire Others

“The idea was organic,” Mark Workman, Principal, BFW/Marcum explains. “We wanted to do something special for our employees and our communities. We came up with the idea of leadership by design. A way to take some of the mystery out of great leadership by having it broken down by an expert. We wanted to collaborate with one of our longstanding partners—one that had both the resources and the event space, so MSU was a no-brainer.”

We asked MSU President Dr. Bob Jackson what he thought of partnering for the Leadership by Design event. “When we started talking to BFW/Marcum about this event it was an obvious match for both of us. We love partnering with local businesses, and we love sharing our campus with the community. It is always a pleasure to work with BFW/Marcum on a project. They are hardworking professionals and are extremely prepared in all that they do for MSU and others.”

It’s always fascinating and surprising to break out of our regular expertise of engineering and do something like this. It challenges us in new ways and goes beyond a client/partner relationship and serves the whole community.

Why Leadership? Why Gen. McChrystal?

“I’d read and was inspired by his book, “Team of Teams.” Explains Mark. “He’s also a well-known and extremely talented speaker, so his name kept coming up when we discussed our options.”

Why leadership? We asked both Mark and Bob what drove them to that topic. “I’ve been invested in professional development and leadership development lately.” Answers Mark. “The topic felt prescient and valuable to our team and the community at large.”

“Every leader, of any organization, can benefit from additional and regular professional development on leadership.  The field of leadership is constantly evolving and there is always something new to enhance one’s organization.

Gen. McChrystal did an excellent job and provided many takeaways to benefit all event attendees and their organizations.”

Murray State was the Obvious Choice

We are engineers. That means we keep a rolodex of solutions in our heads. There’s nary a problem that we haven’t already considered and a solution we haven’t earmarked. MSU was a simple choice for us—we understand its philosophies through our work with the organization, we also have an appreciation for its passion, history, and space. When the time came to choose a venue, it wasn’t a hard decision.

“Murray State was the obvious choice to work with because of its strong commitment to education,” says Mark. “We worked directly with MSU President Dr. Bob Jackson and Dr. Tina Bernot, Executive Director of Development to ensure everyone did their part and had exactly what was needed to pull off our leadership event, and it went exactly as planned.”

A partnership is a two-way street, so we asked Bob for his thoughts. “It was a several month project and many individuals participated and worked very hard to provide a top-notch educational experience for everyone who attended – especially our campus community. Quite honestly, the detail work and challenges involved felt very much like an engineering project, so everyone was quite comfortable!

In short, the engagement was excellent, and everyone I spoke to complimented every aspect of the event – from Gen. McChrystal’s remarks, his new book on leadership, to the venue, Lovett Auditorium.”

Closing Remarks

There is something tangible in the air when you’ve just listened to a great speaker impart their wisdom onto a crowd. You leave the venue feeling different from when you first entered.

Bob agrees. “It is always a pleasure to hear world-renowned speakers and to learn from their experiences. Gen. McChrystal has a long history of leadership at the highest level and provided new ideas, real-world experiences and engaged the audience with his experience and comments.”

Bob took home some valuable and practical knowledge that night but hopes that Gen. McChrystal’s words most resonated with the future leaders in the crowd—the young as well as those that haven’t yet realized their potential.

“Leadership is primarily an art and great leaders are constantly listening, learning and evolving throughout their careers.  In my experience, the best leaders are servant leaders; ensuring the leader is helping others to grow and develop and has a deep empathy for his/her people and the organization as they move forward.”

Bob’s closing remarks mirror those of Gen. McChrystal. Leadership isn’t about leading so much as it is about sacrifice. A great leader imparts their time, energy, and sometimes even their sweat and tears into the success of the group. With luck. Gen. McChrystal’s words have rippled through the audience, inspiring and cultivating this much-needed philosophy.


We asked Mark one last, very simply question. Will there be more? He was quick to answer.

“Yes. We’ll be doing these engagements annually. Look out for more.”