Chris Kolenda, founder of SLA, helps principled business owners who want to drive their growth at the right time, with the right team, in the right way.


Leading a balanced life is not a matter of dividing time. It’s being clear on your priorities and ensuring that you meet commitments in the important aspects of your life.

It’s easy to drift. You let your email inbox become your daily to-do list and get sucked into the social media vortex. You meet everyone’s demands, but you feel like the most important aspects of your life are passing by. I’ve been there.

Here’s a way to take back your life.

1. Identify the four or five most important aspects of your life. Career, Family & Friends, Health & Fitness, Community, Faith, Mentoring, among others, are common ones.

2. Create a bullseye or spider web chart with a spoke for each aspect. Label the rings 2-4-6-8-10.

3. Assess how well you feel that you are meeting commitments on each one. 0-2 = very poorly; 8-10 = highly satisfied.

4. Connect the dots. How happy are you with the picture?

5. To boost your engagement in a particular area, put time on your calendar for it and do not compromise that commitment.

6. Each morning, write down three things you want to accomplish that day. At the end of the day, write down three things that you achieved.

7. Find a partner or trusted adviser who will help you stay on track and do the right things the right way. Accountability shortens your path to success.


david vs goliath in businesss

Small businesses can innovate faster than big businesses.

Iran is building drones that fire ship-killing missiles while nerds with laptops launch business-crippling cyberattacks. The English longbow defeated the heavily armored French knight. “Two thousand pounds of education,” Kipling lamented of British officers shot down by rifle-wielding Pashtun fighters, “Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.”

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Innovation is applied ingenuity that gives you a competitive advantage. It does not have to be expensive or hi-tech.

Problem-solving restores performance to a set standard. Leaders who fixate on it do not move their organizations forward — they create yo-yos.

Innovation, on the other hand, takes you to new heights. The medieval English had a significant disadvantage: the French knights could outspend them on armor and thus win battles. Instead of investing in better armor, the English invested in the longbow and archers and invented tactics to enhance their effect. The Battle of Agincourt showed the innovation’s devastating effects. 

Who’s helping you innovate so that your people, processes, and products give you a competitive advantage or make you distinct in the field?

Small businesses win when they think like David, not like Goliath.

I’m delighted to offer you the opportunity to join me and six other leaders at my Antietam & Gettysburg exclusive event, December 7-10.

The battlefields will build your imagination for the action steps to make 2022 your best year ever.

Among the topics we typically discuss:

*Action steps to put the right leaders on the scene and empower them to make decisions.
*How to help your subordinates achieve “leader-on-horseback” inspiration so that people have clear examples to follow.
*How to create innovation and gain a competitive advantage. Ways to set up your new subordinates for success and keep them winning.
*Action steps that create clarity, buy-in, and accountability. Ways to let in fresh ideas and avoid smelling your own gunpowder.

You’ll come away from the event with action steps that will power your success in 2022 and lifelong relationships with other great leaders that will boost the quality of your life.

Find out more about the exclusive event here or paste this link into your browser:

Here’s what participants say about the event:
Gain buy-in like Chamberlain; encourage people to take the initiative like Buford. This inspiring and interesting experience is giving me new tools and stories to develop leaders.
Dick Gephardt, former Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives; CEO, Gephardt Group

Matrixed Organizations Don’t Work

Matrixed organizations don’t work. They suffer a disorder similar to siloed ones: poor accountability. The Afghanistan failure is exhibit A; it’s the same principle in business.

Members of Congress and America’s punditry recently awoke to the calamity in Afghanistan. The war ranks at the top of the biggest foreign policy disasters in U.S. history. In his Senate testimony on September 28th, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley admitted that we lost to a rag-tag militant group known as the Taliban. Cue the hue-and-cry. And yet, no one has been held accountable for the fiasco.

The reason is simple: there’s been no one on the ground in charge of the war.

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Wait. What?

That’s right. There’s no one in charge on the ground, so there’s no one to hold accountable for success or failure. There’s no single American the President can look to and say, “you are responsible for achieving success in Afghanistan.”

The military has a portion of the responsibility: fighting the enemy and training the (defunct) Afghan Army. The diplomats are in charge of building the (defunct) Afghan government capacity and coordinating with allies and neighboring countries. The U.S. Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID) is responsible for helping the (destroyed) Afghan economy and infrastructure. In intelligence agencies coordinate clandestine operations and provide intelligence assessments, while training the (dismantled) Afghan intelligence agency.

There’s no one below the President of the United States who has the authority and responsibility for making it all work together half a world away. Everyone else works comfortably in their silos.

While the generals, diplomats, aid workers, and spooks each talked about their progress, the situation kept deteriorating. The main causes for failure include the vast corruption within the Afghan government and military, and the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. These problems occurred in the fault lines between the silos. Because no one was in charge of U.S. efforts on the ground, no one had the authority to address them or to tell the President that we needed a new strategy.

“Setting up a franchise is stupid,” Anna (not her real name) told me, “and forget about coaching. Coaches are a dime-a-dozen. You should enroll in our veterans’ program and figure out what you are able to do.”

Did you ever notice that unsolicited feedback is always about the sender and never about you?

Most feedback is about the sender. Look at your evaluations, and you’ll find that what your boss highlighted reflects their own priorities rather than an objective appraisal of you.

Unsolicited feedback is even more problematic because there is no accountability, and it’s often about control. The sender wants you to conform, be like them, and not rock the boat or challenge their beliefs.

Anna wanted to badger me into enrolling in a program that I did not need and discourage me from helping veterans build a meaningful, joyful, and profitable consulting business.

When someone gives you unsolicited advice, think SMILE: the five fingers of sanity and success.

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Your thumb, closest to your heart, represents the letter S: self-care. Exercise, diet, sleep, study, and well-being are vital to sustainable success.

Your pointer represents M: mentors, coaches, and advisors. They point out the shortest path to success and help you avoid getting high from your own fumes. I have two coaches, and their support has paid for itself many times over.

Your middle finger stands for I: Ignore the Annas.

Your ring finger: L is for loved ones. Dedicate time to those who matter most. No one’s ever had a deathbed with that they’d spent less time with their loved ones and more time at the office.

Your pinky signifies E: your employees, customers, partners, and allies. They are the people you serve.

SMILE, and you’ll keep things in perspective. Here’s the video that you can view and share.

Chris Kolenda and Afghan Interpreter

MJ (Interpeter) & Chris Kolenda

Americans commemorate September 11th in their own ways. I spent the day at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which houses roughly 13,000 Afghan refugees. A former interpreter from one of my units, MJ, is there with his family.

MJ served in one of the most remote outposts of Afghanistan. In such areas, interpreter turnover can be very high. Some take leave and don’t return; others get reassigned to more peaceful areas and larger bases closer to their families.

MJ stayed with his company for the full 15 months. I asked MJ why he stuck it out.  “I respected Captain Page and the company. They took good care of me, and we were making a difference.” What had been one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan in 2007 was one of the more peaceful a year later.

More Americans than ever are leaving their jobs for different employers or careers. Employee turnover, which can range from 50% to 200% of the employee’s annual salary, is one of the highest costs any company faces. For solopreneurs, turnover in your partners and subcontractors results in lost momentum, increased rework, higher expenses, and a greater risk of things falling through the cracks.

MJ provides insight on how to retain your top talent. Gain buy-in by letting people know what you need them to do and why, and having them figure out how. Set clear expectations and hold people accountable. Treat them well and make sure they’ve got the resources and support they need to be successful. Captain John Page did that for his company, which kept MJ on the team. MJ’s support and understanding helped save American lives and change Afghan lives for the better.  

MJ and his family of 8 left Afghanistan with only the clothes on their backs. The conditions in refugee camps, even ones like Fort McCoy, are difficult. MJ never complained. He’s grateful to have a chance to build a new life for his family and wants to open an Afghan restaurant.

The Biden administration has been stubbornly tone-deaf about the outrage and disappointment that many Americans feel about the disintegration of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan after we spent 20 years and over $2 trillion, suffering over 2300 US service members killed in action and thousands wounded.

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The President has been steadfast in his decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan and has defended it fiercely as the meltdown unfolded. The generals talk about working with the Taliban to help American citizens get out of the country. Diplomats whisper about recognizing a new Taliban-heavy government.

Many Americans are furious about all of it, and the administration’s explanations and rationalizations seem to dig the hole deeper. Unless the administration acknowledges the emotions of so many Americans, they’ll be unable to rally them for the difficult choices ahead.

As an expert business owner, you face tough choices all of the time. The stakes are different, but the emotions are genuine: fear about starting or growing your business, anger at a partner that let you down, joy at gaining a new client and supporter, anxiety about investing in yourself, joy at seeing your clients get to new heights.

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Emotions affect your judgment. People mostly make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize the decision after the fact. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shows how this process can lead to major errors.

Here’s what to do when you’re facing a challenging decision.

1. Label the emotion that you feel: anger, sadness, joy, contentment, surprise, fear, confusion, among others.

2. Identify the circumstances that are driving each emotion.

3. Develop options to get to your goals.

4. Decide which one is best and act on it.

Creating space between emotion and action, in action:

I’m concerned that an investment in my business won’t pay off (fear of wasting time and money). The best way to reach my goals and shorten my path to success is by getting the right support. Here are ways to do that: A, B, C.

Which one has the best potential payoff at the lowest risk?

BOOM! You got this!

What’s your top takeaway? Please share your thoughts!

Khris Middleton gets my leadership MVP award for his crucial role in the Milwaukee Bucks’ game 6 win. 

Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen. Still, Middleton’s moment in the 3rd quarter reversed a deteriorating situation for the soon-to-be champs.

Bucks’ forward Bobby Portis, Jr. plays on the razor’s edge of controlled passion. When he plays with too much passion, he makes errors that hurt the team; too much control and he fails to provide the spark that lifts the team to greater heights.

After posting a double-digit lead at the end of the first quarter, the Bucks went into half-time down a few points to the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were surging in the 3rd quarter, too, as the Bucks tried to regain momentum. Portis was back in the game.

Portis made what looked to be a fantastic steal. The referee whistled a foul, and Portis ran down the court screaming in protest. The ref added a technical foul, which sent Phoenix to the free-throw line. Another technical foul against him would result in ejection from the game. 

Middleton jogged over to Portis, looked him in the eye, and said some quiet words. His intervention provided the reset Portis needed. Bobby played well the rest of the game. The Bucks regained momentum, took the lead, and won the championship.

Most CEOs and entrepreneurs don’t have peers on the team who can provide timely interventions, challenge your thinking, and keep you centered. When I think of my biggest mistakes in business, each of them occurred when I was lone-wolfing it. Belonging to a mastermind group and having a trusted adviser have paid for themselves several times over with stronger growth, fewer expensive errors, and greater peace of mind. 

Who are the Khris Middletons in your life?

The next FOCUSED program begins in September. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

The magic is in the implementation. We meet for 90 minutes each week. You do assignments that help you gain the right focus, strategy, and team. You eat the elephant one bite at a time using a 7-step process that helps you make the second half of 2021 your best six months ever, and turbocharges 2022. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you.

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

Last week, I held an exclusive event at the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields for an extraordinary group of small business CEOs and solo entrepreneurs. Our purpose there was to discuss innovation and ways to take our businesses to new heights. 

One of our most powerful discussions occurred at Little Round Top. On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine Regiment, led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, defended the extreme flank of the Union position. The regiment held off repeated confederate assaults until they were nearly out of ammunition. As the next assault came, Chamberlain ordered his troops to fix bayonets and charge the attacking enemy.

His unexpected counterattack caught the confederates off guard. They broke and ran, thus ending the largest threat to the Union Army. The 20th Maine saved the day, and, perhaps, the Union.

Vital to the 20th Maine’s success was the addition of 117 soldiers on the eve of battle. These troops from the 2nd Maine Regiment were detainees, accused of desertion. They thought they had signed two-year enlistments instead of three and demanded to go home. Talk about disengaged employees!

The Union generals gave Chamberlain custody of the accused, with permission to shoot them if he wished. Chamberlain had about 300 soldiers in his command. Guarding a large company of deserters would deprive him of team members for the upcoming battle.

Chamberlain could have ordered them to stand in the ranks during the battle or face a firing squad. That’s the digital, on-off-on-off, approach: do what I say (on) or you’ll suffer the consequences (off). Based on what we know about employee engagement and the behavior of soldiers under fire, those forced to face confederate rifles, cannons, and bayonets would likely have broken and run away. The cascading effect would have doomed the Union Army.

Chamberlain used a different approach. He gained their trust, heard what they had to say, treated them respectfully, and talked about why he needed their support. He let them decide whether or not to fight. Persuasion is an analog approach, using a continuous signal to gain buy-in. Of the 120 deserters, 117 agreed to take up their rifles and fight, increasing Chamberlain’s capacity by over one-third. 

Too much communication today is digital. Leaders issue policies and demand compliance. You provide mandates with carrots and sticks. People yell at one another over social media. Your top lieutenants urge you to use stronger language and more drastic sticks. Skeptical employees dig in their heels or leave. Is it any wonder that there’s so much polarization in society and disengagement at work?

The analog approach to communication focuses on the ABCs: provide clarity, gain buy-in, and promote 360-degree accountability. Let people know what you need them to do and the desired results and outcomes (the Why). Let them figure out the how. Who’s helping you with the ABCs?


The next FOCUSED program begins in September. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

The magic is in the implementation. We meet for 90 minutes each week. You do assignments that help you gain the right focus, strategy, and team. You eat the elephant one bite at a time using a 7-step process that helps you make the second half of 2021 your best six months, ever, and turbocharges 2022. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you.

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting