Chris Kolenda is the instructor of Leading Well: Six Habits That Inspire People to Contribute Their Best.
Founder of the Strategic Leaders Academy, Chris helps leaders who want to lead as their best selves and build a winning team. He operates at the intersection of leadership, culture, and strategy to help businesses grow sustainably. Chris provides the right support to do the right things the right way and avoid blind spots. His clients have grown by over $25 million and counting.
Chris is a West Point graduate, internationally renowned combat leader, retired Army Colonel, business leader, and author of Leadership: The Warrior’s Art — which has sold over 50,000 copies. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, SKY News, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. His battlefield leadership has been featured in several books, including Jake Tapper’s bestseller The Outpost.
In this “Meet Your Instructor” post we asked Chris to tell people about how he found himself in the business of leadership consulting and what advice he gives people interested in learning and applying that skill in their careers.
Q: How did you wind up in the leadership business?
Shortening a leader’s path to success has been a passion of mine since West Point. Over half of my direct reports from Afghanistan have become Army senior leaders (top 1 percent selections) and several mentees from the government have reached the Senior Executive Service. The impact that they are making on our country is significant.
After spending my first career in the Army and government, I wanted to spend my second career working with new and mid-level leaders who want to lead as their best selves and build a winning team. It’s a way to pay forward the lessons from the great leaders who have shaped my life. Helping people lead as their best selves is a great way to lead a life of significance.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to young people who want to be great leaders?
Invest in yourself so that you build the right leadership habits right away. Bad habits are like old, stinky luggage. They get in your way, impede your progress, and are hard to get rid of. Build the right habits and you will inspire everyone on your team to contribute their best to your organization’s success.
The highest payoff investments you will ever make are the ones you make in boosting your ability to inspire people to contribute their best. You get the power of exponential growth.
Q: What got you so interested in leadership that you started teaching it to others?
My own hard knocks and the impact leaders have had on me inspire me to accelerate the success of new and mid-level leaders. For many years, I believed that leaders had to be visionary extroverts. I tried hard to conform to those expectations. I was burning out. Wearing the visionary-extrovert cape at work exhausted me. I was wiped out by the time I got home, which affected my family life and friends. It was a wake-up call.
As I studied leaders from history and put together Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, the fact that extroversion or introversion had no bearing whatsoever on the quality of your leadership became clear. So did the fact that some great leaders were highly detail oriented and others were visionaries. There’s no single ideal for leaders. You have to be yourself and become the best version of yourself. Our PROM servant-leader archetypes are the perfect entry point for leaders to do precisely that.
Do you remember a teacher, mentor, or leader who made a special impact on you? Of course you do. As you read this, their names and faces are coming into your mind, as are the ways they’ve made a difference to you. They never ask you to pay back the “gifts” — they want you to pay them forward to others.
Q: How have you benefitted from teaching this subject?
Seeing mentees succeed sparks joy. Helping you overcome obstacles, power through roadblocks, and develop action steps to achieve your goals helps me constantly improve my craft and fills my cup.
It’s a wonderful second career. When you invest in your success, you have skin in the game, which motivates you to work harder so that the investment pays off.
Q: How will people benefit from the skills they learn in your course?
You will develop the right habits so that you can lead as your best and most authentic self and inspire everyone on your team to contribute their best to your organization’s success.