Leading By Example: Dr. Karen Kuhla
Executive Director/Co-Founder | Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point
Photo by Ken Gabrielsen
She’s got zero military background, so what’s Karen Kuhla doing at West Point, directing an organization of retired colonels and generals? “The partners could have found lots of military to fill the position, but knew outsiders could translate their ideas for them,” says Rick Minicozzi, the CEO of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG), which teaches leadership values to executives.
With a master’s of science and education specializing in vocational education from Virginia Tech and a doctorate from the University of Virginia, Kuhla’s teaching-focused background combined with experiences in the corporate world made her an ideal candidate. Since Kuhla arrived at TLDG in 2010, she has brought more than 25,000 executives from top global companies like GE, Mercedes Benz, and Procter & Gamble to the military academy for sessions that combine classroom instruction with outdoor challenges like group rowing on the Hudson — an activity that illustrates the importance of working together by literally being in the same boat. Another important component of the program is failure analysis. “In the corporate world, people don’t talk about [their] mistakes in public,” says Kuhla. “But in the Army it’s the reverse. You want to talk about the failures and why they happened so you don’t do it again.”
While many clients are men, TLDG has held sessions just for women, taught by women. “The army has a relatively small percent of women in leadership, which is sometimes the same in the corporate world,” says Kuhla. “[Having] women officers and generals share their experience with women in industry has been very powerful.”