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A conversation with Battlefield Leadership’s new COO Adrienne Harrison

By Interviews

The beginning of a new year often ushers in renewed focus and strategic change for many organizations. Battlefield Leadership is no different. The company recently hired one its highly lauded senior facilitators, Adrienne Harrison, Ph.D. as its new Chief Operating Officer. Her credentials and achievements are nothing short of remarkable.

For more than twenty years, the West Point graduate and decorated Army veteran has led organizations both in and out of uniform. While in the Army, she served as a multifunctional logistics officer in a variety of leadership positions across three combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She played an integral role in the Army’s change management process, transforming the way logistics and life support operations are conducted on the battlefield. She subsequently served as an assistant professor of American history at West Point. After concluding her Army service, she entered the corporate world and held several executive roles before coming to Battlefield Leadership full time as its COO.

 What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

Working alongside our CEO, Kevin Farrell, helping him set the strategy for the company’s operations and growth, ensuring peak performance, and driving results while fostering a culture of continuous improvement across all facets of the organization.

Now that most industries are coming out of COVID, my goal is to expand our client base and focus on how Battlefield Leadership will continue to grow. While I am transitioning from a senior facilitator to COO, I am excited that I still get to use my diverse career in the military and teaching history at West Point to take on content development for our programs.

What do you have your sights set on?

We are putting COVID in the rear-view mirror and 2022 is our year of emergence from it. We are looking at how we can better position Battlefield Leadership than we were before, how many more programs we will facilitate, keeping an eye on year-over-year growth and setting 5–10-year goals.

A lot of your customers can relate to that.

Everyone did what they had to do to get through year two of the pandemic. We at Battlefield Leadership recognize that many organizations aren’t bringing every employee back to the office like it was pre-Covid; this puts more emphasis on making those times when teams do come together really count. Battlefield Leadership is ideally positioned to help leadership teams make the most of those gatherings.

The proliferation of the remote or hybrid workforce creates new leadership challenges in a more dispersed environment. How do you manage a team and hit productivity goals? Virtual meetings enable us to see each other, but it is still a struggle for some. However, when you reflect on history, most leaders did not see their direct reports every day. The lessons of history underscore the need for solid corporate leadership and leadership training to help organizations be stronger in the end, despite the impacts of distance in a more remote work environment.

How has onboarding new Battlefield Leadership team members changed? What recommendations do you have for other organizations?

My plan is to take a more personal approach. One thing we’ve learned in our work with clients is how important it is to ensure that remote workers truly feel like a part of the team. When employees have left, one of the reasons they give is that they felt cut off from everyone and missed that interaction. You must guard against that, and if not, you are going to lose them.

What remains consistent is making sure to clearly communicate what is expected of them and periodically asking them if I have set them up for success. You must build trust between you and your team to let them do their jobs. History is so useful in this regard because it wasn’t too long ago that you trained people and let them do their jobs without hovering because we did not have the same means of communication as we do today.

Why should organizations look at Battlefield Leadership now?

Every business coming out of the pandemic is facing some sort of new normal, whether that means changes to consumer buying patterns, how people communicate, people’s willingness to travel, or some other factor. Whole new industries have been born from being forced to look at and do things differently because of the constraints the pandemic placed on us all.

The common factor is going into the unknown, in a direction you perhaps didn’t anticipate. Where history gives leaders a good measure of comfort is when you play the tape to the end, you can assess the second and third order consequences on decisions. Leadership lessons don’t change, circumstances do. They realize that they are not alone – they see the same types of challenges, emotions and conflicting arguments have all been played out. Being able to understand that and play in context builds strength.

For those who may be leading in ambiguity and are uncertain of what lies ahead, it is the perfect time to reach out to Battlefield Leadership. We are excited to get back to work to help organizations successfully navigate challenging times ahead.

Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help yours by emailing or by calling 864.386.9637.  

Three ways your leadership team can fail (and what to do about it).

By Field Experience

At Battlefield Leadership, we believe that three core tenets of strong leadership are character, courage and competence. In our executive leadership programs, we use history to help today’s leaders experience the weight, impact and consequences of the decisions historical figures made in shaping our country’s past to help strengthen their leadership skills for their future. The best leaders who fully embrace and master these tenets were, and continue to be, put to the test with the disruptive impact to work and our lives that the pandemic caused.

What leadership challenges do our Battlefield Leadership facilitators consistently see, especially considering unforeseen issues and opportunities brought forth by the pandemic? How can history teach today’s executives leadership lessons to help overcome them?

Here are three:

1. Communication from the Top

When everyone suddenly began working through virtual platforms full time, many organizations struggled to adapt to being scattered and physically detached from their teams and customers. In a virtual or even hybrid setting, it is even more important to ensure that your team maintains focus on their organization’s goals. Having clear communication from the top is imperative for success. Did the leader’s intent and vision cascade throughout the organization or is there confusion? Was the message sent the message that was received?

2. Organizational Culture

Leaders create their organization’s culture which produces behaviors within their teams that create results. When organizations are upended, whether by events out of their control or ones that bubble up internally, the cracks in the armor are amplified. Are leaders living up to the organizational values and are they taking ownership to drive desired behaviors?

3. Leadership and Organizational Agility

The pandemic put a spotlight on leadership deficiencies. Being able to align your team and pivot quickly when opportunities arise is a differentiating factor between those who thrive versus those who just survive or even damage their brand. Just because an opportunity lands on your doorstep doesn’t mean leaders and organizations are able to capitalize on them.

Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help yours by emailing or by calling 864.386.9637.

How Historical Leadership Lessons Transform Today’s Organizations.

By Field Experience

We recently sat down with two of our senior facilitators, Adrienne Harrison, Ph.D, and Jim Czupil. We wanted to learn why organizations participate in Battlefield Leadership Experiences and how these programs create a unique competitive advantage with stronger teams geared toward long-term success.

What surprises participants most about what they can learn from history, and in particular, military history?

AH: They are surprised at how relatable historical figures are to what they are dealing with. At first, they think the pressures we face aren’t the same, especially with our 24/7 plugged in work world. Leadership, and the pressures and decisions that leaders make are timeless. The rest of it is circumstance. We frame history so people can relate to in their everyday life. For example, both have a window of opportunity to make decisions, both analyze cost/benefits of a decision. They realize they aren’t so different after all.

The benefit is hindsight. They see how decisions have second and third order effects that play out and the history gives them a vehicle to analyze their own decisions and validates their gut feelings or choices made that impact their lives today. They realize they can learn from this, and suddenly, it makes sense.

JC: What also surprises them is not only how it impacts them as leaders, but how it affects their organizations. We talk about the difference between deliberate and emergent strategies and how historical leaders behaved when opportunities were presented. We use the pandemic as a great example. Most organizations had an operational plan prior to March 2020, but when the pandemic hit, suddenly, all these emergent strategies came out because of other opportunities and possible challenges. We take them right from what historical figures were doing to how it affects their business.

For some, the connection of military history to their business is a leap, but we end up winning everyone over. That is a tribute to the way our historians work with our business analysts and our clients.

Jim, from your side of things, what surprised you most about the application of military leadership to corporate America?

JC: I was introduced to Battlefield Leadership while in corporate America where I was responsible for executive education for The Hershey Company. The “aha” moment came for me when we had Battlefield Leadership facilitators talk with executives about military leadership perspectives. I realized there was a direct application to what we were dealing with and there was a huge opportunity to connect these two. The advantage of me coming from the corporate side is I have been in countless talent and succession planning meetings. The corollary between the kinds of things that derail some business leaders or make others move forward are the same in the military.

Have you ever had an engagement where the leader realized they didn’t have the right talent at the table?

AH: Actually, quite the opposite. We had a leader who conducted a personal assessment of a team that was perceived as possessive and resistant to change. They engaged Battlefield Leadership to validate whether their assessment was correct. From what we observed in how they engaged with the historical decisions, this leader realized the need to further invest in this team with targeted development to settle these individuals into their roles because they would not have been successful without it.

JC: We also do a lot of executive coaching outside of the experiential programs, and we have developed relationships with participants to help them beyond the program.

Are there differences between military and non-military organizational leadership?

AH: The most obvious is that in the military, leaders give orders that are obeyed. Military leaders are trained to be comfortable making decisions and holding the people underneath them accountable.

The similarities are that organizations need to have depth and leaders need to be developed. In the military, there is so much emphasis on education and leadership training. You may hire leaders for your organization who have gone through leadership training, but that’s not the norm.

The sense of purpose that the military brings is what corporate leaders gravitate to the most. At Battlefield Leadership, we bring the best of the military example over and make leaders comfortable with their authority and responsibility for the people they lead whose livelihood is in their hands.

Why should leaders choose Battlefield Leadership from other executive leadership programs?

JC: What separates us is the way we make it relevant to their company and to them as individuals. We bring the best military, history and business experts together to tie our clients’ specific business challenges to military history.

AH: We build the bridge from history to timeless leadership challenges and make it relevant in a way that you don’t get with other leadership development programs or a business book. That’s the beauty of hindsight.

To inquire about engaging Battlefield Leadership for your organization’s leadership development email or call 864.386.9637.

Luis Merizalde

“Your Normandy program was a great experience and the entire team came home energized and eager to apply the focused insights we picked up in Normandy to the business and their own lives. We definitely came back as better leaders! I was impressed with how well the program appealed to and affected all the different nationalities in a team as diverse as mine. I genuinely believe the Normandy Experience has provided important areas for improvement in effectiveness and a strong motivation boost for my team.”

President | General Mills, Australasia
Luis Merizalde

Kamie Eckert

“This was the second time that our team has partnered with the Battlefield Leadership group for a team engagement trip. After having an amazing experience the first time in Normandy, it was hard to imagine that we would be able to recreate that same type of magic and connection. I am happy to share that while the Malta experience was very different, it certainly built on what we had learned previously and filled the current needs of our team perfectly. Kevin is great at reading the group, using our language to prompt conversation and making the space for the business discussions to take the lead. This has allowed us to grow through the connection and experience of the trip, but it has also to enabled us to have important business discussions leading to decisions that will help us accelerate our strategy. I am a huge fan and believer that the Battlefield Leadership experiences are key to our team’s success!”

President, General Manager USA | Royal Canin
Kamie Eckert

Robert F. Amen

“The appeal of the Gettysburg Leadership Program is truly universal. Our global senior management team, which comprises more than a dozen nationalities, rated this the best and most relevant leadership course they have experienced.”

CEO, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. | International Flavors & Fragrances Inc
Robert M. Amen

Peter A. Darbee

“My focus over the last thirteen years has been, above all else, on leadership. During these years of inquiry, no one has defined leadership quite as succinctly or effectively as you did at our session; character and competency says it all.”

Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer | PG&E Corporation
Peter A. Darbee

Ken Gills

“Your leadership insights were no less than outstanding. I learned more these past two days of leadership training than in any other course I have ever attended.”

Bayer HealthCare
Ken Gills

Carol Candino

“I just wanted to reach out after the Leadership Experience to say thank you for all of your guidance and experience in teaching this life course. I learned much about our history’s leaders and how their decisions and thought processes unfolded, as well as how it related to corporate leaders today. What I found most surprising were the leadership lessons and how they related to me in more ways than I could have expected. I saw qualities in myself that I had forgotten I possessed. I want to thank you for reminding me that they were there. Thank you again for being an inspiring leader to us and for helping us to discover the leader within.”

Bayer Healthcare
Carol Candino

Dr. Steve P Nichols

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from all my team members. In short, I can summarize it by saying every one of them stated this is the best leadership experience they have ever participated in…by far. The enthusiasm you portrayed as you led us and the genuine interest you took in the team and each member of it largely accounts for the huge success.”

U.S. Agronomic Manager | Bayer CropScience
Dr. Steve P Nichols

Sal Sama

“The Gettysburg Leadership Experience provides an environment for business professionals to examine one of the greatest battles of American history through the perspective of its leaders and their subordinates. Clarity of communication, organizational focus, alignment, succession readiness, and many other present day business challenges are discussed through a historical perspective where certain decisions and actions turned the tide of war and history, and which metaphorically apply as factors for success or failure in your business. Participants in the Battlefield Leadership training benefit both personally and professionally from the experience.”

Business Manager | WinField Solutions
Sal Sama

David Tallman

“Our entire team of senior leaders was impacted by the Battlefield Experience—Leadership Lessons at Gettysburg. The examples used, coupled with the chance to actually walk the fields of engagement and learn how the decisions of a few leaders impacted many, were outstanding. The corollaries to our business leaders’ intentions and ensuring that all our team members understand those, left a lasting mark. The battle at Gettysburg determined the outcome of our nation’s greatest challenge…so too the lessons learned will impact the outcomes of our businesses. Thank you for making this a great investment in our team’s development.”

Senior Vice President and General Manager | Eaton Corporation
David Tallman

Kevin Wirkus

“As a business leader and veteran, I can think of no better platform to train today’s executives than Battlefield Leadership. Much more than a history lesson, Battlefield Leadership offers profound and detailed insight into the leaders and decisions that shaped the very fabric of America, as well as the application to today’s competitive business environment.”

Vice President | 21st Century Healthcare, Inc.
Kevin C. Wirkus

Kevin D. Wilde

“There is no better feeling for a champion of corporate learning than when a creative leadership development program makes an important difference for the organization AND wins over the skeptics. Battlefield Leadership is such a success story for General Mills. While some leaders were excited to use history and battles as a learning tool, others here weren’t so sure. But history came alive for all members of the team that week and it made a powerful impact on individuals and the working team. Since then numerous teams have sought out the Battlefield experience and we have an ongoing demand for this offering. I can highly recommend this program and also greatly value the partnership with the principal consultants.”

VP, Organization Effectiveness and Chief Learning Officer | General Mills, Inc
Kevin D. Wilde

Patrick F. Bassett

“Experiential education and team-building at its best, the Gettysburg Experience is a transformational undertaking for leaders at any level in any organization, and especially for leadership teams. By walking the historic battles of Gettysburg and deconstructing the decisions made under fire, the relationships between leaders and subordinates, and the examples of inspired vs. confused communication, the Battlefield Leadership facilitators bring historic moments to life and make it extraordinarily relevant to the ‘battles’ modern leaders fight every day.”

President | National Association of Independent Schools
Patrick F. Bassett

Jeff Lane

“We have taken both experienced and potential leaders through the Cowpens Leadership Experience. Feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive. The battlefield provides a natural and engaging platform for leadership development.”

Director of Corporate R&D | Milliken & Company
Jeff Lane, PhD

Michael Hobbs

“We are determined not to let the lessons we learned at Gettysburg go to waste. So I have dedicated two hours every month for leadership training. I’ve assigned each of my managers a month to run a session. The focus of each session is to make us better leaders individually and as a team by learning from each other.”

Vice President Custom Services & Development | Novation
Michael Hobbs

Justin Greis

“Battlefield Leadership was one of the most profound and meaningful leadership development programs of my professional career. It perfectly blended history with real leadership business leadership challenges to create a powerfully immersive experience that will resonate from the most junior analyst to the executive office. So often we refer to leadership as some unattainable goal; a lofty title reserved for presidents, celebrities and TV personalities. Battlefield Leadership emphasizes the key behaviors and traits of leadership that can make the difference between a successful outcome and a resounding failure. The impressive team of military historians, officers, and leadership experts focuses on real behaviors that can be put into practice immediately and gives you the tools to cut through the fog and ambiguity that hinders many from reaching their full leadership potential. I will carry with me this experience always and I highly recommend the Battlefield Leadership program to anyone looking for a leadership experience that will feed the mind, enrich the soul, and touch the heart.”

Partner, Professor of Information Systems | Kelley School of Business, Indiana University and Ernst & Young Advisory Services
Justin Greis

Paul Merrild

“It’s impossible to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg without being deeply moved. When I recently spent three days wandering these hallowed grounds, I realized that my industry, health care—and others going through turbulent times—have much to learn from the hard-won lessons of Gettysburg.”

Senior Vice President, Enterprise Solutions | athenahealth, Inc.
Paul Merrild

John T. Dillon

“On behalf of International Paper, please accept my thanks for a great job in taking us through the Gettysburg Experience. Your enthusiasm and deep knowledge about the subject made for a rich experience, and your energy kept everyone going through a very busy day. As leaders, our challenge is to take these new learnings and use them to motivate our people to help us take our company to the next level. Thanks again, and well done!”

Chairman | International Paper
John T. Dillon

Steve Snyder

“The program format is very compelling. Our team was engaged at a level that brought energy to the event—I felt it touched each and every one of our senior management in a way that left them more engaged and focused.”

President | 21st Century Healthcare, Inc.
Steve Snyder

August W. Schaefer

“In the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to participate in both the Gettysburg and Normandy: D-Day Leadership Programs, and I could not be more impressed. While history is the backdrop, these are not history programs. Rather, history serves as the chalkboard for lessons in leadership and lessons in teamwork that are readily applicable to the workplace. The instructors don’t take you to the battlefield, they take you back in time and into it. I would strongly recommend these programs, and the instructors, to anyone looking to solidify their team or improve its performance.”

Senior Vice President & Public Safety Officer | Underwriters Laboratories Inc
August W. Schaefer

Marc A. Chini

“As I look back on the experience personally, there is a unique effect that takes place when you connect such an emotional and historic event with leadership education. It makes the learning come to life in a way that is much different than anything that can take place in a classroom.”

EVP & Chief Human Resource Officer | Synchrony Financial
Marc A. Chini