02 October 2018
Retired Col. Christopher Kolenda, Ph.D inspires over 150 a??endees during a recent leadership development seminar at Fort Detrick, Sept. 25 . Photo by Command Sgt. Maj. Marcos Muñoz, USAG
GUTS: Leading with Radical Courage
Lanessa Hill, USAG Public Affairs
Getting the big things right by having the right leadership, culture and strategy was the focus of a recent leadership development seminar at Fort Detrick, Sept. 25. The packed seminar connected over 150 current and aspiring leaders from Fort Detrick, the City of Frederick and Frederick County.
Retired Col. Christopher Kolenda, Ph.D. served as the senior advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, and three four-star generals in Afghanistan. While stationed in the most volatile region near the Pakistan border, a dear colleague was lost. This forced him to rethink what to do and develop a long-term strategy for the fight ahead.
“We were in a major firefight; one after another as soon as we landed and the fights kept getting bigger.” In fact, Kolenda says 95 percent of those they thought they were there to help were actually trying to kill them.
With that sudden reality check, the 800-Soldier task force knew they had to think differently. They had to have a new strategy. And like a lightbulb going off, they found it; the children. After all, everyone wants what is best for their children. Taking on this new strategy, Kolenda was instrumental in obtaining school supplies to children of villages; most of whom used sticks to draw letters in the dirt amid a three-wall structure with no roof that was used as a school.
As time progressed, efforts were made to build a school. Throughout his time in this region of Afghanistan, the atmosphere dramatically shifted from a constant firing combative environment, to one of mutual respect and collaboration among the elders and children of the villages and the Americans. Kolenda and his team found a way to win while fighting for their lives, and for that he was decorated with the Department of Defense’s highest civilian award for his work on strategy.
Kolenda was selected to be the Secretary of Defense’s representative in exploratory talks with the Taliban from 2010-2013. He is the only American to have fought the Taliban in combat and engage them in high-level diplomacy.
Leadership, Culture and Strategy. As Kolenda puts it, “is like the legs of a stool, you need all three in place and aligned to have a stable platform for growth and impact.”
Leaders with guts practice radical courage, which includes four kinds of courage needed to win: physical courage or the willingness to undergo hardship; moral courage or the decision to do what is ethically right; emotional courage or the willingness to face situations of high anxiety and lastly, intellectual courage or making and sticking to tough decisions when the right choice is not obvious.
“However, if there is no leader development, and there are people not developed or ready to handle that power, we could be creating a disaster”, says Kolenda.

Leaders are forced to think about how much independence to give middle management. They need to be agile, make decisions quickly and be capable of identifying opportunities and dealing with threats. Leaders empower.
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