RADM Kirby Has Left The Building

RADM John Kirby Ron Palinkas Pentagon Press Secretary

“Kirby resigns as Pentagon press secretary”   

The six words flashed across my screen quickly as I scanned the afternoon news, causing me to pause briefly and scroll my mouse in the opposite direction. I hung on those words for just a moment before clicking on the Stars and Stripes article.

Seven paragraphs, 13 sentences, 677 words.

On his first full day in the chair, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carton announced his intent to replace Pentagon Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby with a civilian. That’s his prerogative. He gets to make that call. We don’t have to like it, I get that. But this just doesn’t seem like the place to start on the first day in the office.

John Kirby Ron Palinkas Pentagon spokespersonWe’re still mired in Afghanistan, one foot in and one foot out as we try to make a graceful exit from the Graveyard of Empires. We’re back in Iraq, trying to piece together a military force that was routed into retreat from the rising specter of ISIS. We’re trying to convince the world that we’re serious about a Pacific Pivot while the Middle East and Africa refuse to allow us to turn our backs on them. A restive Russia is on the offensive in Ukraine. The looming cloud of sequestration. You know, the kinds of things that would keep a defense secretary up at night.

John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.

Kirby011615 John Kirby ron palinkas Pentagon spokesperson

But John Kirby is also a professional. He didn’t slouch away from the podium, he didn’t hang his head. He stood tall and addressed the Press Corps like he did so many times before.

“One of the questions that I think he wants to rhetorically ask and consider is not just who the individual is, but what that individual represents, and whether it’s appropriate or not to have a [person in] uniform up here,” Kirby said. “And those are fair questions for him to ask as he comes into the job.”

That’s Kirby at his best. Delivering the bad news while gesturing with knife hands that would bring a smile to retired Marine General James “Chaos” Mattis. Only this time, he was the subject of the bad news. But John Kirby is a professional, and only a professional could stand before the media and calmly and deftly discuss his own dismissal.

Typically, a new secretary of defense will bring in his own spokesman. Carter had not decided on a replacement according to Kirby, who said he has agreed to stay on for “a couple of weeks” to help with the transition.

I get it. We all get it. The Secretary gets to make the call. But two things gnaw at me. One, the person who stands at the podium as the Pentagon’s crisis communicator doesn’t exactly rise to the top of the priority list. Certainly not on Day 1. Two, Kirby deserves better. A lot better. Donald Rumsfeld famously played the “You’re dead to me!” card on Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, but even he didn’t do it on his first day in office.

When the smoke clears from today’s news, Rear Admiral John Kirby will land on his feet. A man with his “particular set of skills” is a valuable commodity in Washington and even more so in the business world, where the Nation’s premiere crisis communicator will find a warm welcome. This, too, shall pass. But for now, it’s okay to be a little pissed off.

Farewell to the King. Admiral Kirby has left the building.


Simon Sinek: TED Talks

Simon_Sinek ron palinkas leadership andy verbeke


Simon Sineck on TED Talks.  Simon makes some great points about individuals and leadership.  In his video he discusses how to go from a planner to a dreamer.  Simon makes a great statement; Martin Luther King, Jr gave the  “I have a dream” speech, not a “I have a plan speech.”  Fundamentally we all have the ability to be leaders, no matter our position or role, no matter the organization’s size, large or small.  Some of the best leaders I have known were not in charge of anyone or anything.  Please check the video out and thank you to Andy V for sharing this with me!


Problem Solving Steps (STEP)

Problem-Solving-Steps ron palinkas STEP

I went to a play at my daughter’s school this evening and could not help but take a picture of this poster.  As we try to do more and more each day, we discover as many new problems as we solve.  Never have we had access to such an overwhelming amount of information.  So much information that it is easy to find yourself in an information trap.  We hope for more data to direct us to a conclusion or course of action.  Sometimes, this inaction is appropriate, you need more information to proceed.  Many times, however, we wait claiming we need more info.

The STEP poster sums it up for me.  Four basic steps that can help guide an individual or a group to a solution.  The effectiveness of STEP increases with the number of participants who genuinely participate.  Think STEP next time you encounter a problem at work or at home.  Form your own thoughts and practice articulating your perspective.  Assemble the interested parties and be the first to present a perspective.  Listen (and try to understand ) differing points of view.  STEP is a great way to encourage honest and open discussion of problems.


“I was never in the service….”

121215-M-NI439-085 ron palinkas

I hear this statement quite a bit.  Over the past few months several war movies have come out — “Fury”, “Unbroken”, and “American Sniper.”  All great movies to see, veteran or not. Invariably someone will say something like “I wanted to join the service, but chickened out”, or “I had planned to join the marines, but something came up.”  All valid explanations as to why someone did not serve.  One colleague of mine said to me after one of these exchanges , “I am interested in learning more about what they did in the service, but I am a little embarrassed because I never served.”  I told him to relax, veterans like to talk about the old days all the time.  Just relax and enjoy the stories.

I never forgot the discussion and would think in similar situation what a good response for a non-veteran would be.  I never really liked the “Thank you for your service.” or “I really got a lot of respect for you guys.” But I kept thinking their had to be a better way for a non-vet to address someone in a way that wasn’t patronizing.  Years later it happened.  I was at another technical school and the the instructor asked how many veterans he had in the class, which led to the inevitable question “What branch did you serve in?”  The instructor replied quiet and measured. “I never had the privilege of serving.”

What a tremendous response–not patronizing, not minimizing, just one simple sentence.  I still remember that day in Santa Ana, CA when Matt B. spoke it.  I said to myself how I couldn’t imagine a better response.