How to Demonstrate Grace under Media Fire: General Eric Shinseki, VA Secretary

By Sandra Zimmer

How would you respond if you were accused of incompetence in a media interview? Could you stay calm and open? Could you handle it with grace and dignity?

Currently, there is a big media bruhaha around General Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. He has been accused of allowing veteran’s hospitals to delay and even falsify appointments for medical care. He is now responding to calls for his resignation.

My comments in this post concern the way Shinseki  responded rather than the accusations. I am not qualified to judge his guilt or innocence regarding the allegations and accusations.  While I can’t comment on whether Shinseki was guilty of failing in his job, I do feel very capable of commenting on his dignified response and his remarkable presence.

On May 7, 2014, General Eric Shinseki  gave a master class on how to handle a grilling from the national media.  

Listen to this 8 minute interview on All Things Considered at NPR.

The first thing that captured my attention was General Shinseki’s calm sense of presence. He was listening, open and receptive.  His responses seemed deeply considered.

He was not defensive, reactive or emotional.  Effortlessly, he refused to be baited, agilely sidestepping attempts to goad him into defensive reactions.

He did not jump at a chance to blame anyone else; neither did he agree to be tried in the court of the media. He used the media skillfully to demonstrate his intent to get to the bottom of all accusations and to be clear that he has acted responsibly in the situation.  Really, this was masterful use of a negative media interview!

Consider how he made sure we know how deeply he cares and how committed he is to serve the needs of veterans.  Notice also how he articulated his values, especially integrity, without making a big deal.

I was very impressed by his response! I think he demonstrated how to handle a challenging interview. Even more, he modeled true leadership presence.  His calm, easy pace completely soothed me and I relaxed into knowing that he would do whatever needs to be done to serve his duties and take care of his veterans.

What do you think? Could you do as well as General Shinseki?