Vail leadership forum focus is on growth and failure |

Vail leadership forum focus is on growth and failure

Panelists focus on how they've changed through education, experience and failure

Participants in a Jan. 29 leadership forum in Vail were, from left: Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey; Molly Morales of Vail Health; Jeff Kennedy of Moe's Original BBQ; Rebecca McDonnell of Vail Resorts; and Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger.
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VAIL — Leadership is about constant learning. Some of the most valuable lessons come when things go wrong.

The PrimaVail program held a Jan. 29 forum with a quartet of people in leadership positions in town. Participants were: Molly Morales, property manager for Vail health and a member of the Vail Local Housing Authority; Jeff Kennedy, co-founder of Moe’s Original BBQ; Rebecca McDonnell, director of the product sales and services team at Vail Resorts; and Dwight Henninger, the chief of police in Vail.

Lessons from failure

The panel members talked about their influences, books they’ve read and other topics. But perhaps the most discussion came when members talked about times they’d failed, and what they’d gained from it.

Sometimes, failure is more about what a leader doesn’t do.

Morales said sometimes a leader needs to get into the fine details of what a team is doing.

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Sometimes that’s needed. “You need to know what’s going on in that department,” Morales said.

Sometimes, failure comes from not speaking up, or speaking out.

McDonnell told the story of a team member who ultimately became addicted to painkillers in the wake of an injury.

“I was afraid to ask difficult questions,” McDonnell said. The employee in question was a supervisor, which means she was letting down a number of people.

“I will never not ask questions now,” McDonnell said.

Henninger said that after 18 years as Vail’s police chief, he still struggles with officer turnover and diversity on the force.

Henninger noted that when he took the job, the department averaged losing about five officers per year.

Some years are better than others, Henninger said. But, he added, the biggest problem he’s yet to solve is diversity on the force.

Henninger noted that the national average is about 14% of female police officers. That’s about where Vail is, he said.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good job (with hiring diversity),” Henninger said. “It’s been frustrating.”

Kennedy noted that Moe’s has been stuck for some time getting its 62nd store up and running. It seems that the company is at the point of opening a new store (through franchise owners), another closes.

But, Kennedy added, “In those failures is a great time to learn.”

Failures are essential, Kennedy said, “as long as you take it and make something positive.”

All the panelists agreed that failure is important to moving toward a more successful future.

Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey was the moderator for the Jan. 29 panel. She has also been one of the leaders of this season’s new PrimaVail program, which aims to help both new employees and others learn more about the town’s culture.

Turnout for the leadership forum was light — only 20 people or so. But, Wadey added, that’s to be expected at this time of the season.

At this point, businesses are well into the day-to-day grind of a long ski season. It can be hard to turn out for events.

“We’ve ushered a lot of people through the program,” Wadey said, particularly in the early weeks of the current season. “The sentiment we’re getting overwhelmingly is that people are happy we’re doing this.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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