In this episode of MEP, our guest is Eric Kapitulik, Founder of The Program, a leadership and team development company. We talk about a pivotal moment in his life and how he turned it into something that resonates and is beneficial to others. He also talks about shared adversity, which is at the heart of developing great teams and great leaders.
Born and raised in Thompson, CT, Eric Kapitulik attended Pomfret Preparatory School, where he excelled as a three-sport varsity athlete. Upon graduation, Eric matriculated at the United States Naval Academy, where he was a four-year varsity letter player on the Division I Lacrosse team.
After graduation in 1995, Eric went on to serve in the United States Marine Corps as both an Infantry Officer and Special Operations Officer with 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, 1st Marine Division. As a Platoon Commander within his company, Eric led a team of 20 covert operations specialists on numerous Special Forces-related missions.
In 1999, during a routine training mission to prepare for an upcoming deployment to the Persian Gulf, Eric and his platoon were in a helicopter crash that resulted in the death of seven Marines. In response to this tragedy, Eric created the Force Reconnaissance Scholarship Fund to benefit the children of his fallen men.
Eric left active duty after eight years of service and received his MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 2005. He founded The Program in 2008.
Eric holds himself to high standards and always strives to do ONE MORETM. He has participated in eight Ironman Triathlons, The Canadian Death Race Ultra Marathon, The Eco Challenge, and The American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon. He is also an avid mountaineer and has summitted five of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents): Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Elbrus, and, most recently, Mt. Everest.
(02:51) Eric’s background
(05:01) One of the things that I really latched onto was your story about losing your comrades in the helicopter crash… What is it from your training or upbringing or the things that you learned that has allowed you to use that as fuel for what you do and the productivity that you’ve had?
You do not rise to the occasion when adversity strikes. You fall back on your habits.
(10:50) In your experience, what are those habits that need to be developed for people to fall back on, good habits when adversity strikes?
You cannot take out all the roots, the bumps, the challenges of the path; nor should you…Prepare your child for the path, not the path for the child.
If you are not consistently forcing yourself outside your comfort zone, then, realize, you’re getting worse. There is no just maintaining in life. You’re getting better, or you’re getting worse.
(16:37) What would you suggest for somebody who understands the importance of that and wants to start developing those habits? What is the process for you? Is it just leaning into those moments, identify and leaning in? What would you suggest for that person trying to change his habits from nothing to good, or bad to good?
The most successful individuals and teams are those that stay focused on, and work and develop on all those things that they control, not the things that concern them. But instead stay focused on and work on those things that they actually can influence.
(22:33) Who is a mentor or a leader that you really look up to as a model or somebody that you really respect in the field whether in the military, business or athletics?
(25:10) Let’s talk about the program and the work that you’re doing. In particular about this concept when you do team cohesion work, called Grow Through Shared Adversity, which I just love. What does this concept mean and why do you believe it’s so important to team culture and team building?
Shared experiences, the more of them that we can have, the tighter we become as a unit.
We only grow as individuals and as a team when we’re outside of our physical and mental comfort zones.
(27:52) Can you take us through one of those examples of a Judgment Day team training that you go through in athletics or corporate?
What separates teams that win and compete for championships compared to just win games is that yes, they have talent, but more importantly, they have great teammates and great team leaders.
(34:55) What about those people, like if you’re working with corporations, people had a knee replacement or hip replacement… what do you do with those people? Do they just play a specific role in the team activity? What would you do in that sort of circumstances?
The two things that we control in our lives every morning when we wake up are our attitude and our effort.
Do not mistake activity for achievement.
(39:49) What book or series of books has most influenced you and why?
books written about and by Ernest Shackleton and his expedition
(40:50) When you think of the word “successful” what is the first thing that comes to mind and why?
(42:13) If you could have dinner with one person you admire, past or present, who would t be and why?
grandfather and Doug Zembiec