Vail Valley Voices: Interviews with leaders: Linn Brooks
Ryan Summerlin January 24, 2013
Editor’s note: The Vail Valley is blessed with many ethical, effective leaders. By helping them tell their stories, the Vail Leadership Institute hopes to inspire others to engage the heart in leadership.This is interview is with Linn Brooks, the general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. 1) What has been your most impactful leadership experience?Early in my career I was quite happy being a “staff engineer” and had not thought of being in a leadership role. However, when I divorced I really delved into the questions of what did I want my life to be, and what did I want to accomplish. What rose to the top for me was that I wanted to provide specific experiences for my kids, namely: a solid college education and the head-start of having no debt after graduation; and the experience of travel. To achieve these I would have to advance in my career and take a leadership role in their lives. These goals and the intentional living that was required to meet them also impacted my career. began to expand this intention surrounding my kids to my work environment and the people I worked with. I found that I wanted to be intentional about how I planned for their lives, as well. Somewhere in my leadership training I had read that a person’s work environment, and specifically his or her direct supervisor, was one of the very top factors in that person’s evaluation of his or her life satisfaction. This is a tremendous responsibility for a leader to take on, but also a huge opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives. At this point, I started to think I wanted to be, and could be, a leader.2) How would you describe your leadership approach or philosophy?I buy in completely to the concept of “servant leadership.” I feel that my role is to clear the road blocks and increase visibility in the forward direction for my employees so that they can best support the organization and be effective. I like to understand the details of each employee’s work because it gives me insight into what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but I don’t like to micro-manage. People will make really good decisions if they are given the tools, support and the space to work through complex issues.3) And how has that evolved over time?Like many developing leaders, I used to think I needed to be the smartest person in the room. In reality, I work with a lot of very smart, experienced people, many of whom are much smarter than I am. But I realized that you don’t need to be the smartest person to be the leader. You need to be the one paying the most attention, figuring out what’s important and communicating in a way that moves things forward. The leader is the person who recognizes the good ideas (not always the leader’s ideas) and supports or champions them. Giving the people you work with the credit for their ideas does not diminish your leadership status but engenders loyalty and true engagement on their part.4) What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?To listen. The best ideas and decisions come from people working together and sharing ideas and perspectives. Getting your team to engage in group idea generation and decision making is not hard to do and has tremendous benefits that make the organization great and keeps people engaged and excited about their jobs and their ability to contribute.5) What program have you been involved with at the Vail Leadership Institute, and what have you taken from the experience?I am a member of a roundtable group. I have found that getting together periodically with a group of other leaders who are developing leadership skills, struggling with forming their organization and have their own lessons learned to share has supported my own journey. I have come to depend on this group.6) What needs to be done in your community now that you are excited about doing?I am excited about providing my community with all the benefits of effective local government. In a time when people are profoundly disappointed in government, see government as wasteful, lacking in value and irrelevant, I am excited about sharing all the value that local government can bring to a community. Local government can have a profound impact on the quality of its community because the employees live and work with the people they serve. They understand the needs of the community and are willing to work hard to make a difference. Breaking down the barriers between governmental agencies, and between the agencies and their constituents, to accomplish mutual goals stretches the taxpayer’s dollars, extends the value of public resources and has the unexpected benefits of broadening our collective perspective and encouraging feedback from the people we serve.Linn Brooks is the general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. She is a member of one of the Vail Leadership Institute’s roundtable groups. For more information about the institute, call 970-926-7800, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.vailleadership.org.