Episode 33 - Rob Nielsen and Rick Rochelle

Rob Nielsen has dedicated his career to creating and implementing leadership, cultural alignment, and peak performance strategies for organizations across the country.

A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Nielsen has taken the leadership skills learned as a scholar-athlete (a boxing champion and All-American water polo player), a Captain and scout pilot in the U.S. Army, and applied them to business.

For over three decades, whether leading soldiers in the field, developing start-ups or helping advance hundred million-dollar companies, this unique developmental model has been used to achieve peak financial performance by inspiring, empowering and challenging teams. This philosophy is based on the belief that the most powerful and lasting solutions are achieved through the trust, collaboration and emotional commitment of each stakeholder.

In founding All American Leadership, Nielsen has assembled a powerful, committed group of professionals, ranging from Ph.D. level professors to highly successful business and military leaders, each representing decades of experience in leading, educating, and developing leaders of character.

A published writer and speaker, Nielsen and his team engage with CEOs and their organizations to develop leaders, align cultures and accelerate success.

Rick Rochelle’s primary passion is empowering teams by enhancing and integrating their strengths—emotional, intellectual, and physical. A lifelong scholar-athlete and student of leadership for 30 years, he has significant leadership education, coaching, and business experience. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, his twin passions were academics and wrestling. In 1985, Rick discovered a third passion—the study of leadership—while attending the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). The curriculum stressed the idiosyncratic notion of expedition behavior, selflessness leading to enhanced team performance, which fits well with All American Leadership’s model of changing culture through character, empathy, trust, and accountability.

Rick earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Princeton (1987) and an M.S. in Ecology from Colorado State University (1991). He joined the NOLS faculty in 1987 and amassed 310 weeks (median is 60) teaching leadership on remote wilderness expeditions on five continents, making him one of NOLS’ most experienced faculty members. He loves receiving notes from students about the life-changing nature of these courses, whether from executives, college students, Navy SEALs, or this e-mail from orbit. But Rick is most proud of a series of successful rescues: a week-long ordeal for an appendicitis patient in the Himalayan monsoon, night rappelling down steep ice at 17,000’ for cerebral edema, leading Kikuyu rangers and carrying a man gored by a buffalo down elephant trails on Mt. Kenya, following a bearing through a whiteout on Denali for a perforated ulcer, searching for a lost caver for 40 hours in the Black Hills, and others.

As program supervisor, then assistant director of NOLS Alaska from 2003 to 2008, Rick learned more about how to transfer leadership skills to business, heading a team that oversaw expeditions from the Pacific to the summit of Denali. He earned a certificate in non-profit management from the University of Alaska and focused the team on identifying and enhancing business practices contributing to student success, optimizing product quality and expense management. He also customized leadership curriculum for the U.S. Naval Academy, Wharton, NASA, and others.

In 2008, Rick was named Director of NOLS Professional Training, which customizes leadership courses for organizations. For seven-plus years, he led a values-based process, articulating clear purpose, intent, and a unique value proposition. The team made improvements throughout the value chain, increasing quality and consistency, more than doubling enrollment. By the end of his tenure, the department had run 38 expeditions for astronauts (4 of which he led), adding mission control personnel to enhance ground-orbit communication, and designing curriculum in preparation for missions beyond low earth orbit. More than 20% of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen participated in leadership practica annually. The slate of business schools grew from Wharton and Kellogg to 8 of the top 20 MBA programs. Other clients included Google directors, the country’s largest wildland fire academy, elite military units, prestigious scholars’ programs, and top-tier secondary schools. They exceeded budget targets during the global downturn, with a compound annual growth rate of 15% (budget 10%), growing the bottom line by a factor of 4.5 (budget 2.2). As an intrapreneur (one designated to lead a division charged with innovation) in an organization that just turned 50, Rick is familiar with cultural barriers to change.

Rick and his wife of 25 years, Shannon, still lead expeditions for NOLS. He believes leadership acumen gained in one ambiguous, unpredictable environment transfers well to another—from the backcountry to the boardroom. Always excited to find effective ways to enhance team performance, in 2015 Rick proudly joined the passionate All American Leadership faculty.

All American Leadership Website:

NOLS website:

Recommended Books:

Mindset: The new psychology of success - Carol Dewet Ph.D.

Triggers - Marshall Godsmith

Grit:  The power of passion and perseverance - Angela Duckworth

Legacy - James Kerr

Team of Teams - General Stanley McChrystal

Turn the ship around - L. David Marquet

Everybody Matters - Bob Chapman

The Captain Class - Sam Walker