Developing Mental Toughness: Insights from Phil Kornachuk

From his days as a kid working on a rural Ontario dairy farm to over two decades of elite service in the Canadian and U.S. Militaries, Phil Kornachuk knows what it means to summon and rely on inner grit during life’s most challenging times. His story underscores an important truth we should all recognize: mental toughness isn't just for the elite, the military, the athletes, or the high-profile leaders.

Let's burst that bubble right here, right now. Phil Kornachuk's transformation proves that anyone, from any walk of life, can cultivate and reap the benefits of mental grit. We've witnessed this in countless individuals at our MTNTOUGH gym, which is more than just a fitness program; it's a transformation crucible that values mental toughness above all else.

The real challenge lies in the development of this mental resilience, a quality that Phil Kornachuk has honed and wielded throughout his life's journey. From the humble beginnings of rural farm life in Ontario to the ranks of international elite military service, Phil has become a beacon of mental toughness.

In this article, we'll explore Phil's path, delving into his experiences, his evolution, and his insights, providing you with a roadmap to mental resilience. So, strap in and prepare to navigate the path less taken - the path to mental toughness.

The Journey of Phil Kornachuk

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, participating in challenging deployments that ranged from peacekeeping operations in eastern Europe to active combat in multiple hotspots.

Notably, Phil risked his life to serve others as a Special Operations soldier in the Rangers, Green Berets, and other units. These experiences added a layer of complexity and necessity to his development of mental toughness, giving him an intimate understanding of the grit needed to navigate life’s toughest challenges.

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.


Transitioning from Military to Leadership Development

In 2019, after retiring with honors from the U.S. Military, he took a significant stride. Phil 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. He began the next chapter of his career by starting a company called LEAD 406, which was all about taking people into the backcountry and primarily focused on leadership development, thereby helping others to forge purpose-driven, principle-based elite performance in multiple arenas.

Through LEAD 406, Kornachuk 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. His approach to mental toughness, refined over years of diverse experiences, meshes perfectly with MTNTOUGH’s ethos, earning him an esteemed place as the ideal partner for the groundbreaking program — MTNTOUGH MINDSET: a 10-day Mental Toughness Program. Plus, as a certified trainer specializing in functional fitness, executive health programs, tactical group fitness and the overlap between physical well-being, outdoors and leadership, Phil continues to inspire and train countless individuals. 

LEAD 406  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.” 

StoneWater Training: Executive Coaching and Backcountry Expeditions

Once the family relocated to Oregon from Montana, Kornachuk established his current company, StoneWater Training. This company, embodying Phil's philosophy of actively choosing what mindset to face every day with, 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.” These expeditions are an extension of his philosophy and embody the mantra, “No shortcuts. Do the right thing and don’t quit.”

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. All of these expeditions are designed to provide participants with personal insights and experiences about mental toughness.

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.”

These insights will undoubtedly add immense value to his collaboration with MTNTOUGH for the MTNTOUGH 10-Day Mental Toughness Program. Drawing from his personal journey and the observations from these expeditions, this partnership aims to equip more individuals with the essential tool of mental toughness, thereby reflecting the benefits of developing mental toughness that Phil consistently underscores.

Common Traits of Great Leaders and Successful Teams

    Through years of running expedition trips and working with leaders from various sectors, one thing remains clear: great leadership transcends environments and industries. Whether it's a startup from Silicon Valley or a group navigating the harsh wilderness, several integral traits make leaders effective and teams successful.

    • Mental Toughness. The importance of mental toughness can't be overstated. It's more than just enduring hardship; it's about maintaining focus, composure, and confidence in the face of adversity. Mental toughness allows leaders to make informed decisions, even under pressure, and inspires confidence in their team. In the backcountry or the boardroom, it's a game-changer.
    • Values. Understanding your values provides the compass that guides your actions and decisions. In the rugged wilderness or the corporate world, values serve as an unwavering beacon, guiding you toward your goals and shaping your choices. They form the heart of your identity as a leader and influence the culture of your team.
    • Accountability. Accountability mechanisms play a crucial role in a team's success. In the unpredictable terrain of the backcountry or in the structured framework of an office, knowing that each team member is responsible and answerable for their actions fosters a sense of trust and unity. It creates an environment where everyone steps up, understanding their role and its impact on the overall mission.
    • Flexibility. Flexibility is key in any leadership scenario. Plans may need to be changed, strategies may need to be reworked, and leaders must be adaptable. In the wilderness, this might mean adjusting to sudden weather changes or unexpected terrain. In the corporate world, this could relate to market shifts or internal changes. Being adaptable ensures a leader can navigate their team through any unexpected turn of events effectively.

    These traits - mental toughness, understanding values, accountability mechanisms, and flexibility - are the common threads weaving through successful leaders and teams. They are applicable across different environments and industries, highlighting their universal importance.

    Unleashing the Power of Mental Toughness

    Among the great traits that make great leaders, mental toughness serves as the unsung hero of personal growth and success. It's that unseen force that keeps you at peak performance, whether you're in the backcountry, the gym, or the boardroom. But the kicker, and many times the surprise to students practicing it, is that mental toughness isn't a solo venture. It's a team player. When you're leading, it helps build a foundation of trust, encourages collaboration, and stirs the spirit of teamwork. With mental toughness, you can lead authentically, inspire others, and orchestrate effective team dynamics.

    Mental toughness isn't confined to a specific sector of life or work. It weaves into every fabric of your existence, influencing your experiences, choices, and outcomes. Here at MTNTOUGH, Mental toughness isn't just a trending term. It's an integral piece of the puzzle to achieving personal and professional success. Whether it's bracing yourself against the harshest backcountry conditions or tackling life's everyday challenges, mental toughness gives you the edge. 

    Kornachuk's experiences and insights confirm the mission that MTNTOUGH stands for - it's not just about building muscle and endurance for western hunting; it's about cultivating a mental toughness that can weather any storm. With Phil's help, we provide you with the tools and training to navigate not just the rugged wilderness, but also the unpredictable landscape of life. So don’t just take our word for it, see for yourself with this 14-day free trial, and learn from the living, breathing testament to mental toughness that is Phil Kornachuk.