“I think what is just as important a leader is to have a trusted team in place that you can rely on and bounce ideas off of when setbacks happen.” — Kris Kindoll
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kris Kindoll.
Kris Kindoll is DMI’s Managing Director of Defense and National Security. He served in both the U.S. Army and the Virginia National Guard.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
My name is Kris Kindoll. I’m the Managing Director of Defense and National Security at DMI, a global digital transformation and mobility services firm headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. I grew up in Lawrence, KY, about 20 miles south of Cincinnati, one of three boys in my family. My father served in WWII and was a truck driver. My mother managed several stores. One of my brothers followed the same path as my father. My other brother joined the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted in the U.S. Army.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I work in federal contracting supporting the Pentagon. I started at DMI in program management. After becoming a Director, I took on added responsibility running larger programs and now serve as an account manager for DMI’s database and information contracting work with the U.S. Army. It’s a perfect fit considering my background.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I joined the U.S. Army in 1990 and completed basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. From there, I was stationed in Panama for three years working as an electronic maintenance technician supporting satellite communications. Following my tour in Panama, I graduated onto special operations at Fort Bragg. Eventually when I left active duty, I joined the Virginia National Guard in 2001 and spent the final nine years of my military service career supporting the 116th Infantry Regiment. I retired from the military in 2010.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
During my years in the Virginia National Guard, we deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was actually the first time the 116th Infantry Regiment had deployed since WWII. Initially, we were sent to Fort Bragg for what’s called “mobilization.” That’s when you get your equipment, complete trainings, etc. I soon discovered that, unlike myself, many of the other guys in the 116th didn’t have previous military experience. They were arriving directly from home, getting trained, and then going to war. Needless to say this was an enormous change. Thus, I found it helpful to study the personalities of all of our team members, their strengths, their weaknesses, and just generally what made them tick. I did so in order to lead by example and help these guys understand that they truly needed to learn to rely on each other. That requires an understanding of each other and trust that everyone will do their part to make the team successful. Yes, people make mistakes. But you have to give others room to make that mistake and learn from it.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
For me, anybody that dons a uniform or steps into harm’s way is a hero. Someone who takes on responsibilities for a cause greater than themselves is a hero. My wife is a nurse, my sister is a nurse and my brother is a surgeon. Right now, I consider each a hero as they are all putting themselves in harm’s way to help others during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
My years spent serving in the military have proven extraordinarily valuable in the federal contracting world. Military life teaches you responsibility, planning, and initiative. What’s more, all of the training and experience I’ve completed has helped me understand what the front line needs. I don’t do my job now for a paycheck. I do it to support the guys and gals out there serving our nation.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis is something negative that happens that we have difficulty controlling. Let’s take a hurricane, for example. I can’t control the hurricane but I can control how I prepare for the storm that’s coming and respond to its negative impacts effectively and expediently to minimize harm to others.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
While it’s important for businesses to have continuity plans in place for when disaster strikes, I think what is just as important a leader is to have a trusted team in place that you can rely on and bounce ideas off of when setbacks happen. No one person can solve a crisis. Diverse perspectives are extremely valuable and necessary. Solicit insights from your team in times of crisis to come up with the best possible solutions.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
First you have to identify and analyze the crisis. Try to understand everything you can about it and what it will take to mitigate and overcome. What steps can you take to leverage existing resources to respond effectively? For example, let’s say I lost my job. What contacts do I have who can recommend me for a new role? Keep assessing and determining what you need to get over the next hurdle in front of you to ultimately overcome the crisis, and in this case, land a new position.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
To survive a crisis, you need to resist overreacting. Instead, analysis of the problem or issues at hand is required as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction. Remaining calm, critical thinking, and reaching out to your support network for help when you need it are three traits I’d say are key.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Staff Sergeant Harker comes to mind. One time we were troubleshooting a technology issue. I said, “This transistor is bad. We’re not getting the voltage we need.” He questioned me and had me explain every step of the issue I was experiencing and how I determined what the problem was. Once I got to the end of my explanation, I realized that he’d helped me analyze the issue, take a step back, and ultimately solve the problem. That experience was extremely valuable!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I’ve never been a guy who loved school. In fact, I hated it. Still, I was always able to excel in the military. But going out into the civilian world, job performance alone isn’t enough to get you promoted in large corporations. You have to have a degree. Thus, I made the decision to enroll in college at age 40. I was running a $33 million portfolio, had a hundred people working under me, my wife was pregnant and I went to college at night. I got a bachelor’s degree in acquisition and contract management in two and a half years. I was told I wouldn’t be promoted without a degree so I took stock of the issue at hand and ultimately achieved my goal. It wasn’t easy but I earned my degree — — and then got promoted!
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations?
- Understand the crisis.
- Remain calm.
- Reach out to your support network.
- Solicit others’ perspectives and incorporate their input into your communications.
- Trust your team. Don’t discredit anyone. They may be able to help in ways you’d never expect.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I love the concept of “paying it forward” and helping people out when I can. But for me, even more important than paying it forward is really investing in my family. I try to be as involved as I can in my family life, taking my son skiing, playing sports, etc. A lot of times work can take over and it’s easy to lose connection with your kids. That’s time you’ll never get back, so make sure you invest in the people that matter to you the most!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I’d like to meet President Trump. That dude is a trip. He does say some crazy stuff but I’d like to see how he’s able to deal with the immense pressure of the role of President of the United States and leader of the free world. Actually, any of our former Presidents would be a thrill to speak with to learn more about high-stakes, large-scale decision making.