When it becomes clear that an organization isn't performing as well as it used to, it's time to ask the tough questions.

Speaking at Stanford Business School, retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal said that when a group's leadership ability is called into question, it's necessary to go a step further and examine the leadership abilities of each individual.

For example, if you believe that America as a whole doesn't lead well anymore, then you need to consider if it's because Americans don't lead well anymore--and why that is.

"Have we gotten stupid? Have we gotten lazy? Have we gotten selfish?" McChrystal posed.

During his experience in the military, he determined that, no, none of that is true. However, he did identify a larger problem.

"I don't think we've gotten stupid, I don't think we've gotten soft. I don't think we've got bad intentions. I think we still want to lead well," McChrystal said. "What I think has happened is we've had many, many years in which one model and one style of leadership was rewarded with success."

"But in fact as things start to change, sometimes you find they don't work as well," he said, adding that the world is less disciplined and more complex and fast-moving than ever before.

When leadership fails, it's usually not because people have forgotten how to lead, McChrystal concluded. Rather, it's because they've made the mistake of assuming that today's strategies will continue to work indefinitely.