Last week I had the absolute pleasure of talking with Ken Falke, the chairman and founder of Boulder Crest, an organization focused on the teachings of post traumatic growth and Author of the new book Struggle Well. Ken discusses some of his struggles and how those struggles helped develop him into the man he is today. Using his Boulder Crest retreat he is able to take service members struggling with PTSD and help them find meaning, purpose, and growth through their struggle. Whether you are a combat vet or live a suburban lifestyle, this book will help you find meaning in those struggles.
What books had the most impact on you and your development?
Harvard Business Review, On Emotional Intelligence
This great collection of Harvard Case Studies should be a mandatory read for all new officers and senior NCOs. If US military leadership programs lack one subject in our curriculum, it is emotional intelligence. It is said that all great leaders have three qualities—a high IQ, great technical ability, and a high EQ, which consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. EQ is the secret sauce to the endowed term, “a Sailor’s’ Sailor”.
Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton (Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams)
Let this sink in for a minute: approximately 30 percent of Vietnam veterans came home with PTSD; this same percentage is true for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Yet, only 4 percent of Vietnam prisoners of war returned with PTSD. What if I told you that PTSD may be a leadership problem? Don’t take my word for it. Read this book and hone your EQ!
Jim Rendon, Upside
Thucydides, an Athenian general during the Peloponnesian War, said, “We must remember that one man is much the same as another, and that he is best who is trained in the severest school.” He was talking about the strength of his warriors as they returned home from battle. As a huge believer in the science and history of post-traumatic growth, I know that US military personnel are best prepared to turn struggle into strength. However, there needs to be training and leadership associated with this concept. Rendon does a great job of providing inspiration, perspective, and explaining the science of post-traumatic growth.
Norman F. Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence
Dixon eloquently assembles a psychological viewpoint on the failure of several significant British Army wars and battles. I remain amazed at just how bad the US military is with lessons learned, and this book helps to understand why we continue to make the same mistakes over and over. This excerpt is so Afghanistan: “As one observer remarked, the Boer Army consisted of 35,000 Generals, each combatant his own master defending his homeland.” (P.S. Dixon started out as a bomb disposal [EOD] expert.)
Frankl spent years in Nazi death camps where he spent many days creating hope in his life under the most horrific of conditions. He also found that his success was centered around the ability to create meaning out of his situation by answering the existential questions, Who am I?, Why am I here?, and Where do I belong? Frankl believed that struggle is inevitable for the human race and that the “healing” fork in the road is choice. Basically, you need to choose and pursue meaning over pleasure. Once you know the answers to these questions and create your path in life, adversity (resiliency) becomes much easier to manage.
Why is reading important for our Navy and/or the Nation?
Reading is the most effective method of increasing your intellect and wisdom. Experience, intellect and wisdom are the critical factors that help shape you as a person.
Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others experience?
I have many books that I love and have helped shape me. The books listed here are ones I have read over the last several years to help me gain a better understanding as we work to develop a solution for our brothers and sisters dealing with PTSD and combat-related stress. I keep a copy of Frankl’s book on my desk. I have read it several times and have over a hundred copies in my office that I routinely share with friends and acquaintances. Frankl has a way with words and his experiences (trauma) were horrific. Once you have a full appreciation for mortality it becomes easier to answer the existential questions. What if you could answer them much earlier in life? They say that 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs. Stress is the number one killer in our country. Frankl bucked the system and was arguably 180 degrees apart in his thinking from Freud. Frankl’s lessons in “Spiritual Survival” teach me how to live a meaningful life.
How did your leadership philosophy develop?
My leadership philosophy/definition is ‘” helping others get to a place that they wouldn’t get to on their own”. This philosophy is derived both from my personal experiences and the readings of several of history’s great leaders.
How has writing Struggle Well made you a better thinker?
Over the last 13 years, I have spent with folks that have suffered severe physical and emotional trauma. I could not accept the status quo on how we treat folks with trauma and have spent these year educating myself to better understand trauma and help those suffering. This research, through face to face meetings and reading are culminated in our book Struggle Well, Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma.
Is there one short story from Struggle Well you would like to share?
I briefly mention a young Sailor named Taylor Morris in the book. Taylor is a former Navy EOD tech and suffered the traumatic amputation of all four limbs. He is the war’s fifth quadruple amputee. Taylor is an inspiration and proof that setting goals and struggling well can lead to great outcomes. I have observed Taylor since the day he arrived at Bethesda Hospital. He has gone on to do some amazing work, to include the recent completion of his Bachelor’s Degree. Taylor has never given in to his trauma and is the epitome of posttraumatic growth.
Struggle Well talks about the benefits one can derived from struggles. But I’m no combat vet, I’m a staff officer that lives in the suburbs, how would this book benefit me?
Although the cover of our book is very military looking, the main purpose for writing the book was to share this with a greater community and normalize the fact that we ALL struggle and there is a way to get through life and Struggle Well. The stigma of mental health care is real and it shouldn’t be. Know that life and your beautiful children will challenge you daily. Follow our roadmap in Struggle Well and your life will become very rewarding.
Would you like to share how a personal struggle helped you become a better man?
I always tell folks that my dad and the US Navy made me the man I am today. I surely could have given up after my parachute accident, but I didn’t. my core values wouldn’t allow that and I when I dug deep within and also asked for help, I was able to overcome a very tragic situation.
Other than your book, are there any books you would recommend be added to the Navy reading list for those what want to find a positive benefit through personal struggle?
See above, Both Rendon’s Book and Taylor Kiland’s books are a great place to start.
Where do you recommend people buy your book?
Where can people reach out to you?
Ken (at) strugglewell.com
Ken is a 21-year combat veteran of the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community and retired Master Chief Petty Officer. Ken is highly respected around the world as an innovative and forward thinking leader on the subjects of wounded warrior care, military and veteran transition, counterterrorism, military training, and innovative technology development.
Ken’s passion is taking care of his fellow combat veterans and their family members, and he is chairman and founder of Boulder Crest, an organization focused on the teachings of posttraumatic growth, and the EOD Warrior Foundation. Ken spends the majority of his time educating the public and private sectors on the issues surrounding the long-term care of our returning military personnel and their families from the last 16 years of war.
Ken is a serial entrepreneur. He was the Founder and CEO of A-T Solutions, which is a recognized international expert and valuable global asset in combating the war on terrorism. At the forefront of providing training and consulting services in the Anti- and Counter-Terrorism industry, A-T Solutions was named four consecutive years to the Annual Inc. 500 fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S. Also recognized in Entrepreneur Magazines’ Hot 500 List, the Washington Technology “Fast 50”, Smart CEO’s “Future 50”, and the winner of the very prestigious Greater Washington Area Government Contractor Award in the category of companies $75M-$100M. In 2010, Ken was named as the Entrepreneur of the Year for the Fredericksburg, Virginia Regional Chamber of Commerce and selected as a finalist in the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year program.
Ken also founded Shoulder 2 Shoulder, Inc. a multimedia technology company and prior to selling his share of the company, he served as the CEO for six years.
Ken is married to Julia Falke (for the last 35 years) and has two daughters Gennavieve (29) and Rhian (25). Ken’ daughter Genna is married to Brayden Keller. Ken and Julia are grandparents to Troy, Riley, Cameron, and Gwendolyn.
Prior to Ken’s professional career, he was an avid hockey player and struggling student that barely graduated high school.