“The further you are from the sound of the guns, the less you understand. I believe in leadership by walking around.”
General ‘Walt’ Natynczyk is considered a new breed of modern day operational military leader with a business administration degree who speaks the language of values, loyalty and humility. While he believes goal #1 is mission success, Natynczyk knows you cannot achieve a mission without caring for your team and ensuring they have all the tools to do their job effectively.
Although he has commanded troops around the world during an almost 40 year military career, he speaks in the language of leadership, not war, and advises corporate leaders to do the same. He tells them to be careful not to make leadership about them or they will lose the trust of others; rather, it needs to be about the mission and the values. Easy-going yet in-command and committed, he’s self described as “Walt from Winnipeg, from north-end Winnipeg, from the rough side of the tracks, never born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” He joined the Cadets at age 15 and has spent four decades in the military, ultimately reaching the peak of General and Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff.
In 2010, he commanded nearly 12,000 troops with missions in Afghanistan, Haiti, the Vancouver Olympics, and the G8 and G20 Summits. “General Walt” holds a business administration degree from Royal Roads Military College and College militaire royal and he is a graduate of the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College, and the U.K. All Arms tactics course. After attending the U.S. Army War College, he was appointed Deputy Commanding General of a multi-national corps in Operation Iraq Freedom in 2004-05, leading 35,000 soldiers.
Among other things, he believes Canadians have honesty going for them: “It goes back to our code of duty, integrity, loyalty and courage that brings honour to Canada. That’s what we do. We can’t lie,” he told the Postmedia News. He says Canada learned a key lesson from the Afghan campaign: “We go into an operation thinking that we’re going into the last operation, instead of the new operation. And when things change, as they did in Kandahar, our ability to adapt to the environment can never be fast enough. We learned to be agile.” In 2013 he was appointed head of the Canadian Space Agency. In 2014 PM Stephen Harper named him the deputy veterans affairs minister.
As a speaker, Gen. Natynczyk fills a room with his engaging presence. He leans heavily on humanity-in-leadership issues, tapping into funny stories and his humility. For fun, he enjoys jogging and sailing. He and his wife, Leslie, have three children who serve in the Navy, Air Force and Army. Advice to his successor? “What I say to everybody: Listen to your people.”