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Retired Brigadier General Tom Kolditz is an internationally recognized expert on crisis leadership and leadership in extreme contexts. His time as a Leader Development Expert spans four decades in the public, private and social sectors. General Kolditz is a global leader, with 26 years of experience in leadership roles on four continents. He has been named as a leadership Thought Leader by the Leader to Leader Institute, and as a Top Leader Development Professional by Leadership Excellence.

With a long and esteemed career, General Kolditz has worn many hats through the years. He is a Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management, and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management. He was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by the U.S. Military Academy, and spent 12 years leading the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. He served two years as a leadership and human resources policy analyst in the Pentagon, and a year as a concept developer in the Center for Army Leadership, and he was the founding director of the West Point Leadership center.

General Kolditz has published extensively across a diverse selection of academic and leadership journals, as well as serving on the editorial and advisory boards for several academic journals. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and a member of the Academy of Management. He is a founding member of the Board of Advisors for the Department of Psychology at the University of Missouri, on the Council of Senior Advisors for the Future of Executive Development Forum, and is an Academic in Residence for the Global Leadership Strategy Network. He has been a skydiving instructor since 1980, and he served as the senior instructor for the West Point Sport Parachute Team.

Soldier, skydiver and scholar: General Kolditz weaves together his multitudinous experiences into the first-hand study, analysis and practice of leadership in dangerous circumstances—in extremis leadership—and how such leadership can be used to create better leaders in more ordinary situations. His most recent book, In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It, was fashioned from more than 175 interviews taken on the ground in Iraq during combat operations.

Full Profile

Retired Brigadier General, Professor, and Crisis Leadership Expert

Tom Kolditz is Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management. His experience as a leader development expert spans four decades in the public, private, and social sectors.

A retired Brigadier General and titled Professor Emeritus by the US Military Academy, Tom led the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point for 12 years. In that role, he was responsible for teaching, research, and outreach activities in Management, Leader Development Science, Psychology, and Sociology. A highly experienced global leader, General Kolditz has more than 26 years in leader roles on four continents.

His career has focused on either leading organizations himself, or studying leadership and leadership policy across sectors. He served for two years as a leadership and human resources policy analyst in the Pentagon, and a year as a concept developer in the Center for Army Leadership, and was the founding director of the West Point Leadership Center. He was instrumental in the design and formation of the Thayer Leader Development Group, and is the managing member of Saxon Castle LLC, a leader development consultancy.

General Kolditz is an internationally recognized expert on crisis leadership and leadership in extreme contexts, and in the development of programs to inculcate leadership and leader development in everything from project teams to large organizations. He has published extensively across a diverse array of academic and leadership trade journals, and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of several academic journals. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and is a member of the Academy of Management. He is a founding member of the Board of Advisors for the Department of Psychology at the University of Missouri, on the Council of Senior Advisors for the Future of Executive Development Forum, and is an Academic in Residence for the Global Leadership Strategy Network. His consultancies include Google and GE.

A skydiving instructor since 1980, Kolditz served as the senior instructor for the West Point Sport Parachute Team. He weaves his personal experiences and abilities as a soldier, skydiver, and scholar into the first-hand study, analysis, and practice of leadership in dangerous circumstances—in extremis leadership—and how such leadership can inform the practice of leading in more ordinary settings. His most recent book, titled In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It, was based on more than 175 interviews taken on the ground in Iraq during combat operations. He has been named as a leadership Thought Leader by the Leader to Leader Institute and as a Top Leader Development Professional by Leadership Excellence.

General Kolditz has presented leadership content to more than 150 governmental, corporate, and social sector audiences worldwide. As a professor, he has led academic seminars or given lectures to students from Babson, Wellesley, and Olin Colleges, the University of Missouri, Columbia University, Duke University, Yale University, the Military Psychology Center of the Israel Defense Forces, Peking University, the Beijing International MBA program, Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, seven national and international service academies and more than ten major metropolitan law enforcement, firefighting, and public service academies and assemblies.

Kolditz has appeared on ABC World News, ABC 20-20, Al Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS, NPR, Calgary Today, Morning Ireland, and interviews with reporters from the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Associated Press, Time, Discovery, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Washington Post, La Razon, and more than a dozen national and international news agencies.


Thomas Kolditz Speaker Videos Back to top

In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On it


Gen. Thomas Kolditz begins his lecture on "In Extremis Leadership" by explaining a little bit of why he got into the business of teaching leadership: “When I started down this road, I thought I was building an understanding for people like soldiers, firefighters and police officers, but as I got the data and started looking at what I was learning about leadership, I realized it was much broader.”

He goes on to admit, “I take a very psychological approach to leadership as interpersonal influence. What that means is what we’re going to talk about today, the principles involved are as applicable in your private lives as they are in your professional or public lives. You carry the same brain with you to work as you have at home.”

He asks the class some questions about their experiences in crises, and explains that he asks because when he taught at West Point, his graduates would, within 18 months of graduation, be in almost every single one of the stressful situations he posits.

Al Jazeera with Col Tom Kolditz - Chilean Mine Collapse


Gen. Kolditz gives advice about the 2010 Chilean mine collapse: “I think the first thing that they need is structure. They need to know what time it is, what time to go to sleep and when to wake up and try to structure their lives in a civilized way. They need to focus on personal hygiene, they need to communicate with their families, they need to have a sense of purpose so that boredom doesn’t set in.”

“They have leadership that has emerged in their setting. And those leaders will be able to structure their lives, whether that’s recreationally or some physical fitness activity, it’s just important that they not spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about their circumstances. The leaders in the mine itself can get some assistance from leaders outside the mine to help them do that.”


Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


General Kolditz talks with great authority on the subject of leadership. His decades-long career as a leader has given him plenty of insightful material to share with audiences. His lectures are powerful tools for creating leadership; they are highly motivating and wholly intriguing. General Kolditz will leave audiences with the knowledge of leadership best practices, of tools and processes for more effective leadership, and ways to be prepared for crises.

In Extremis Leadership, Leading As If Your Life Depended On It:
Cut through faddish, flavor-of-the-month leadership approaches and get in extremis. Gen. Tom Kolditz shows how extreme life-and-death situations can offer profound lessons for leaders in any setting. Gen. Kolditz’s research reveals that the leadership skills and principles evident in dangerous settings also apply to leading in business and everyday life, making this program applicable to both personal and professional success.

Dodging Bullets: How to Avoid Crisis:
Few people want to be put into a position of being crisis managers, so how can leaders prepare organizations to avoid crises before they occur? Gen. Kolditz will take the audience through specific processes and techniques to help leaders anticipate and prevent crises and have a more effective, more empowered work force every day.

Lessons from Sky Diving and High Risk Activities:
Gen. Kolditz has lead thousands of civilian sky diving jumps and leads West Point’s elite Black Knights. Through heart-stopping real-life stories of leaders in these extreme situations, Dr. Kolditz insists that leaders at all levels can improve their effectiveness. In this program he shares his knowledge about leading with influence, and communicating with purpose. He also has a variety of additional high-risk situations he shares that are ideal settings to seek and find great leaders, assess how they might be different, and gleans valuable insights for extraordinary leadership in everyday lives.

Bring Innovation Leadership to a Legacy Organization:
Learn best practices, tools and processes for effective organization design, Identify key steps for mobilizing your desired organizational structure. . Learn how to lead change in organizations, especially those that are tradition-bound and extraordinarily resistant to change. Tom Kolditz draws on first hand experience and multiple cases of innovation and change in organizations using a unique indirect strategy that was successful when more common change management strategies had failed.

Leading Through Tragedy:
Tragedy eventually overcomes all organizations in the form of the death or serious injury of one or more members. Learn what to do to prevent tragedy from disrupting organizational effectiveness, harmony and leadership effectiveness. Lessons include concepts about succession planning, and proven leadership behavior during times of chaos.

Leaders Developing Others
One of a leader's most powerful legacies is to develop those who work with them and for them. Leadership development programs in business have too often been relegated solely to talent managers and HR directors. Tom Kolditz illustrates how, in an evidence based way, each leader can personally and directly develop their people, increasing the performance and retention of employees and building a solid foundation for the future. Tapping leadership development principles introduced, refined and currently in use at West Point, the Yale School of Management, and other high-performing organizations, Tom's presentation creates a clear path and practical framework for leaders to have greater impact and influence over their people while simultaneously helping them achieve their potential.



Thomas Kolditz Speaker Testimonials Back to top

“Colonel Kolditz spoke at my leadership class at Crotonville and was by far one of the singular most impactful speakers I've heard on Leadership.” “It was absolutely terrific, and folks are still talking about it… AMAZING… Truly. Inspirational.”
    Gretchen Hancock, GE Corporate

“In terms of what they thought of your presentation, we asked participants to rank the speakers 1-5 and you received all 5’s (with one 4). A very strong performance. Great job. Thank you!”
    Kip Meyer, IESE

"Colonel Kolditz is a visionary in the field of leadership training and development."
    S. Corderman, Office of Leadership Development, FBI David Academy

"You were outstanding, really made us think and your presentation sparked much conversation in the remaining time we had together. Thank you again for inspiring us to think more systemically about leadership development and how we might improve."
    The Conference Board

"Colonel Kolditz is an engaging speaker who is able to make real-world connections between extreme military operations and leading in a corporate environment. His presentation was truly inspirational and insightful. The universal principals of leadership that Col. Kolditz has researched and presented can certainly be transferred to a global company such as Siemens."
    James E. Whaley, SVP, Communications and Marketing, Siemens Corporation

“The parallels between leading in high-stakes business ventures and leading in dangerous context s are compelling.”
    Goldman, Sachs & Company

“At TIME’s recent global sales meeting, Colonel Kolditz delivered an inspiring and invigorating call to action for our sales team. His presentation, ‘Leading As If Your Life Depended On It,’ offers the ideal rallying cry for our times – when crisis is ubiquitous and when the worse things get, he says, the calmer true leaders become. The colonel’s charge to focus outward and to set yourself apart in order to set your influence apart is the perfect message for an international sales organization facing challenge and change at every turn. TIME’s editors focus on our readers and TIME salespeople focus on our customers – that leadership approach has carried TIME to the top for last 88 years and will continue to. Thanks, Colonel, for helping our team to embrace leadership in extremis.”
    Kimberly Anderson Kelleher, TIME Worldwide Publisher

"Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz was a 10 out of 10! The responses from our key executives and leaders were extremely positive with several attendees indicating how much they appreciated his speech and involvement in our Executive Committee meeting. Having a third party expert on leadership with a unique perspective not often seen in the business community was refreshing, informative and inspiring! We were extremely satisfied with Thomas and BigSpeak.”
    DDR Corporation




* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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“Colonel Kolditz spoke at my leadership class at Crotonville and was by far one of the singular most impactful speakers I've heard on Leadership.” “It was absolutely terrific, and folks are still talking about it… AMAZING… Truly. Inspirational.”
    Gretchen Hancock, GE Corporate

“In terms of what they thought of your presentation, we asked participants to rank the speakers 1-5 and you received all 5’s (with one 4). A very strong performance. Great job. Thank you!”
    Kip Meyer, IESE

"Colonel Kolditz is a visionary in the field of leadership training and development."
    S. Corderman, Office of Leadership Development, FBI David Academy

"You were outstanding, really made us think and your presentation sparked much conversation in the remaining time we had together. Thank you again for inspiring us to think more systemically about leadership development and how we might improve."
    The Conference Board

"Colonel Kolditz is an engaging speaker who is able to make real-world connections between extreme military operations and leading in a corporate environment. His presentation was truly inspirational and insightful. The universal principals of leadership that Col. Kolditz has researched and presented can certainly be transferred to a global company such as Siemens."
    James E. Whaley, SVP, Communications and Marketing, Siemens Corporation

“The parallels between leading in high-stakes business ventures and leading in dangerous context s are compelling.”
    Goldman, Sachs & Company

“At TIME’s recent global sales meeting, Colonel Kolditz delivered an inspiring and invigorating call to action for our sales team. His presentation, ‘Leading As If Your Life Depended On It,’ offers the ideal rallying cry for our times – when crisis is ubiquitous and when the worse things get, he says, the calmer true leaders become. The colonel’s charge to focus outward and to set yourself apart in order to set your influence apart is the perfect message for an international sales organization facing challenge and change at every turn. TIME’s editors focus on our readers and TIME salespeople focus on our customers – that leadership approach has carried TIME to the top for last 88 years and will continue to. Thanks, Colonel, for helping our team to embrace leadership in extremis.”
    Kimberly Anderson Kelleher, TIME Worldwide Publisher

"Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz was a 10 out of 10! The responses from our key executives and leaders were extremely positive with several attendees indicating how much they appreciated his speech and involvement in our Executive Committee meeting. Having a third party expert on leadership with a unique perspective not often seen in the business community was refreshing, informative and inspiring! We were extremely satisfied with Thomas and BigSpeak.”
    DDR Corporation


In Extremis Leadership

In Extremis Leadership
Col. Thomas Kolditz, a professor at West Point and an on-the-ground military leader, shows how extreme life-and-death leadership skills can offer profound lessons for leaders in any setting in In Extremis Leadership.

Kolditz explains that leadership lessons and principles in dangerous settings also apply to leading in business and everyday life. He describes a variety of high-risk situations that are ideal settings to seek and find great leaders, assess how they might be different and glean valuable insights for extraordinary leadership in our everyday lives. Through heart-stopping, real-life stories of leaders in these extreme situations, Kolditz insists that leaders at all levels can improve their effectiveness.

The book is filled with compelling in-depth interviews with such in extremis leaders as chiefs of SWAT teams, mountain-climbing guides, leaders of large-formation skydiving events, the U.S. Military Academy’s national champion parachute team, and team leaders in football, wrestling, swimming and rugby, as well as the first armored cavalry commander to roll his tanks into the fiery streets of Baghdad in 2003. Kolditz challenges us to learn from their experiences and honor their commitment and sacrifices by serving people leading as if lives depended on it.

This authentic perspective on leadership will help cut through faddish, flavor-of-the-month leadership approaches and make anyone better at leading and being led.


In Extremis Leadership, Leading As If Your Life Depended On It:
Cut through faddish, flavor-of-the-month leadership approaches and get in extremis. Gen. Tom Kolditz shows how extreme life-and-death situations can offer profound lessons for leaders in any setting. Gen. Kolditz’s research reveals that the leadership skills and principles evident in dangerous settings also apply to leading in business and everyday life, making this program applicable to both personal and professional success.

Dodging Bullets: How to Avoid Crisis:
Few people want to be put into a position of being crisis managers, so how can leaders prepare organizations to avoid crises before they occur? Gen. Kolditz will take the audience through specific processes and techniques to help leaders anticipate and prevent crises and have a more effective, more empowered work force every day.

Lessons from Sky Diving and High Risk Activities:
Gen. Kolditz has lead thousands of civilian sky diving jumps and leads West Point’s elite Black Knights. Through heart-stopping real-life stories of leaders in these extreme situations, Dr. Kolditz insists that leaders at all levels can improve their effectiveness. In this program he shares his knowledge about leading with influence, and communicating with purpose. He also has a variety of additional high-risk situations he shares that are ideal settings to seek and find great leaders, assess how they might be different, and gleans valuable insights for extraordinary leadership in everyday lives.

Bring Innovation Leadership to a Legacy Organization:
Learn best practices, tools and processes for effective organization design, Identify key steps for mobilizing your desired organizational structure. . Learn how to lead change in organizations, especially those that are tradition-bound and extraordinarily resistant to change. Tom Kolditz draws on first hand experience and multiple cases of innovation and change in organizations using a unique indirect strategy that was successful when more common change management strategies had failed.

Leading Through Tragedy:
Tragedy eventually overcomes all organizations in the form of the death or serious injury of one or more members. Learn what to do to prevent tragedy from disrupting organizational effectiveness, harmony and leadership effectiveness. Lessons include concepts about succession planning, and proven leadership behavior during times of chaos.

Leaders Developing Others
One of a leader's most powerful legacies is to develop those who work with them and for them. Leadership development programs in business have too often been relegated solely to talent managers and HR directors. Tom Kolditz illustrates how, in an evidence based way, each leader can personally and directly develop their people, increasing the performance and retention of employees and building a solid foundation for the future. Tapping leadership development principles introduced, refined and currently in use at West Point, the Yale School of Management, and other high-performing organizations, Tom's presentation creates a clear path and practical framework for leaders to have greater impact and influence over their people while simultaneously helping them achieve their potential.



In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On it


Gen. Thomas Kolditz begins his lecture on "In Extremis Leadership" by explaining a little bit of why he got into the business of teaching leadership: “When I started down this road, I thought I was building an understanding for people like soldiers, firefighters and police officers, but as I got the data and started looking at what I was learning about leadership, I realized it was much broader.”

He goes on to admit, “I take a very psychological approach to leadership as interpersonal influence. What that means is what we’re going to talk about today, the principles involved are as applicable in your private lives as they are in your professional or public lives. You carry the same brain with you to work as you have at home.”

He asks the class some questions about their experiences in crises, and explains that he asks because when he taught at West Point, his graduates would, within 18 months of graduation, be in almost every single one of the stressful situations he posits.

Al Jazeera with Col Tom Kolditz - Chilean Mine Collapse


Gen. Kolditz gives advice about the 2010 Chilean mine collapse: “I think the first thing that they need is structure. They need to know what time it is, what time to go to sleep and when to wake up and try to structure their lives in a civilized way. They need to focus on personal hygiene, they need to communicate with their families, they need to have a sense of purpose so that boredom doesn’t set in.”

“They have leadership that has emerged in their setting. And those leaders will be able to structure their lives, whether that’s recreationally or some physical fitness activity, it’s just important that they not spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about their circumstances. The leaders in the mine itself can get some assistance from leaders outside the mine to help them do that.”