WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- Although he was fired from his post as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan last summer, retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal offered leadership lessons that focused on the need for teamwork while speaking to government employees at the Excellence in Government Conference.
McChrystal was rebuked for comments attributed to him and his staff in a Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged U.S. President Barack Obama's national security team.
However, he's apparently back in favor with the White House. Last month, he was tapped to lead first lady Michelle Obama's military family support initiative, Joining Forces.
Focusing Monday on what he called "plywood leadership," McChrystal avoided discussion of his dismissal during his speech, only referencing his retirement in a brief, narrated video he used to introduce himself.
Plywood leadership, McChrystal said, is a theory he developed while in Afghanistan, when his troops built everything, including his own bedroom, out of the flexible wood sheets.
McChrystal said plywood is flimsy but becomes stronger when glued together. He said the same is true in organizations, using his troops as examples. He showed images of individual soldiers in pieces of layered plywood and said that when "glued together," they create "strength in value."
From that example, he said leaders should learn that they can't be in charge of everything but have to rely on others.
The Rolling Stone controversy emerged Monday during the question-and-answer session when an audience member asked why McChrystal decided to retire.
"Whoa, I thought that was pretty obvious," he joked as the audience laughed.
McChrystal said the article didn't accurately represent his team but it made Obama's job more difficult. His assessment, he said, was that his job was to make Obama's job easier so he offered his resignation.
"I think at times you got to make those kinds of calls, because it wasn't about me. The thing to remember is it's about the mission," he said. "The day I forget that, I shouldn't be commander anymore."
He said the role of the media is a valuable one, despite the Rolling Stones publicity.
"If it wasn't for the transparency and the daylight the media forces, I'm not sure where any of our institutions would go," McChrystal said.
"The challenge is that the speed at which things happen now and the competitive nature of the media means things that got to be recorded [are] often before they can be digested and considered," he said.
Fred Mingo, a retired U.S. Navy captain and vice president for a government consultant group, said McChrystal's forthright attitude in addressing the question was indicative of his leadership skills.
"It showed him as a person and how he worked and operated in the military," Mingo said.
Rodney Azama, managing director of The Chancellor Group, a consultant company for international and defense issues, said McChrystal "still has an impact. … It's just unfortunate circumstances that caused his exit."
Azama also commented on McChrystal's most recent venture as a professor at Yale University, where he teaches a course on leadership and said the general is the right person for the job.
"There's a different between leadership and management," Azama said. "It's the human side of leadership that makes the difference."
McChrystal concluded the first of three Excellence in Government Conference sessions. The others are scheduled for July 11 and Nov. 17.