Phil Kornachuk got his first taste of mental toughness when he enlisted in the Canadian Army on his seventeenth birthday. A self-described unmotivated high school drop-out, Kornachuk credits basic training as the necessary jolt he needed to make something of himself – and of his life.
“The Army was my first introduction to structure and formal leadership,” says Kornachuk. “Tasks were to be completed no matter what. End of story.”
After gaining dual citizenship, his military career dovetailed when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army, which took him to Germany where he met several mentors who took him under their wings. He notes that many of the lessons he learned under their tutelage still stick with him today.
“One of the main lessons was to live by design, not by default,” says Kornachuk, acknowledging how mind-opening that philosophy was to him when he was in his twenties. “The idea that everyone can decide the direction they want to head and what they want to do. Wow. Of course, it took some time for that to really sink in for me.”
Time that Kornachuk spent in the Army over the next 23 years, working his way up through the ranks, serving, leading and developing elite teams within the Special Operations Group. He traveled around the world and his deployments ranged from peacekeeping operations in eastern Europe to active combat in multiple hotspots. During this time, he and his wife, Tana, raised a family of eight, which includes four adopted children. He also earned a Bachelor of Science and a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University.
In 2019, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Special Operations – a Green Beret – ready to take the leadership skills and principles he learned and practiced in the military and pair them with backcountry survival tactics.
“I started a company called LEAD 406, which was all about taking people into the backcountry and primarily focused on leadership development,” says Kornachuk.
Through LEAD 406, Kornchuk built a following among senior leaders and teams in athletics, academic, business, nonprofit and emergency services, bringing groups together from the various sectors on expedition trips that were carefully orchestrated to challenge them physically and mentally. The company was eventually acquired by Allegro Group where Kornachuk assumed the role of Managing Director of Leadership until 2022 when his wife got into her first-choice medical school after working for years as a physician’s assistant.
“She’s a 42-year-old mother-of-eight in medical school,” says Kornachuk with pride. “She’s a total badass.”
Once the family relocated to Oregon from Montana, Kornachuk established his current company, StoneWater Training LLC, which provides executive coaching, hands-on workshops and backcountry expeditions to individuals and groups that range from sports teams to C-level executives to elite military leaders.
“I host expeditions every quarter,” says Kornachuk. “And I like to take a group of totally different leaders like someone from MTNTOUGH, another from a nonprofit in Florida, a NCAA coach from Texas, and bring them together as a team totally off the grid. It’s life changing.”
Kornachuk executes these expeditions with care and precision, orchestrating a myriad of obstacles or challenges that range from climbing a mountain to building a fire to working together to solve the figurative Rubik’s Cube he’s placed before them. He hires outdoor guides to keep everyone safe, but tries to remain hands off as the team works together throughout the trip. Each trip, like the adaptive leadership one he ran last February, come with a basic theoretical framework and a bit of physical and mental leadership prep ahead of time.
And all he has deemed a success in one way or another.
“One thing I’ve noticed running these trips is that no matter the environment or industry, mental toughness and an understanding of their values, their accountability mechanisms as well as flexibility during the course of it seems to be common among great leaders or why certain teams really succeed together.”
By Kristen A. Schmitt