Gen. Stanley McChrystal talked shop this week, saying that leaders are always responsible, no matter what caused a problem in the work place. Speaking to a crowd of employee benefit professionals at MetLife’s National Benefits Symposium on Monday in Washington, McChrystal talked about the experience that forced his resignation as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

After an article appeared in Rolling Stone where some of McChrystal’s staff criticized some civilian Obama Administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden—and implied McChrystal echoed their views, the general resigned and retired from his command. “As a story comes out, the media swirl happens faster than people can think,” he said at the event in Southwest D.C. “So I offered my resignation because the most important thing at that time was the mission. It doesn’t matter whether you caused it; if you’re in charge, you’re responsible.”

McChrystal went on to offer two pieces of advice to the human resources professionals for any parallel situations in their careers or employees’ careers, although he noted, “I wish you never have to deal with your name on the ticker of the TV in a negative way.” First, remember that it takes a lot of energy to be bitter, “so I made the decision not to be angry.” And second, “never give away your self-esteem to people you don’t know and respect.”

He ended that portion of the talk reflecting, “All of us are going to make mistakes, and it’s really a question of how you handle it after you make them.”

The retired commander, who now teaches a course on leadership at Yale University and owns his own consulting firm, was on hand at MetLife’s meeting for a talk called Operating Globally in Uncertain Times.

His discussion focused broadly on how the U.S. and its companies might learn from history and contextual clues in current circumstances to prepare for the future. McChrystal made three points throughout the talk:

  1. Understand the environment we face, and how others might view it: He gave a review of U.S. relations with Iran for the last few decades and reverted the timeline to recap it through the Iranians eyes as well. “How you view it depends on where you stand,” he said.
  2. Build relationships at the personal, organizational and national levels: He suggested that his biggest lesson in Afghanistan was that U.S. troops couldn’t just drive around the Afghan people in order to accomplish their mission and in fact, “the people were what the fight was about.”
  3. Things to think about: He began the Q&A portion of the talk by putting up a list of items including: instability in Pakistan, Syrian civil war, the Arab Spring and summer and fall, etc.

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