Vail Valley Voices: What do you see in the next 50 years for Vail? |

Vail Valley Voices: What do you see in the next 50 years for Vail?

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO, Colorado

At the Vail Leadership Institute, we say vision is about describing where you want to be in the future, perhaps a five- to 10-year time frame, that produces passion in yourself and others. It’s a picture of what it will look like and feel like when you are achieving your dream.

Casting a vision is an essential and extremely valuable leadership principle. Some people think of it as brainstorming, but it really goes well beyond that valuable, albeit more short-term perspective.

In his book “Visionary Leadership,” Burt Nanus defines vision as “a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization. It is the indispensable tool without which leadership is doomed to failure.”

Matthew Heim, in his essay “Catching the Vision,” claims that “by learning to work from a place of intuitive knowing, we can begin to make wiser decisions.”

Leaders see what others don’t. They look for what is coming next.

Stephen Covey uses the expression, “Have the end in mind.” And while visioning is a skill that helps us paint vivid pictures, for it to be significant, it requires having an executable strategy that evolves in relationship with others. Nanus says “the right vision jump-starts people to move forward.”

For a vision to be fully realized, leaders must build trust with those around them. They’ve got to invest the time to engage others deeply. It’s one way that leaders develop followers — just as the Man from Galilee did. His most called-upon prayer was interpreted uniquely by John Ortberg when he saw God’s vision as “make it down here like it is up there.” It’s about the future, but has action tied to it!

It seems to me that taking bold action is one of those virtues that sets leaders apart. The best action is that which follows a plan. Visionary leaders paint inspiring big pictures of futures worth striving for. They describe a potential worth passing on to future generations.

If your vision is worthy of both your effort and of those you call around you, then it’s good enough to lay out a road map.

How will you get there? What will it take? Who needs to join your movement to make it both successful and significant?

Here’s my story on visioning. I have been blessed to have been involved over the years in helping to build the community here — what I have often thought could become a really vibrant, model community. I imagined that we would need a strong, diverse economy, great facilities, a great education system and excellent, forward-looking leaders. In the mid-1990s, I decided to get involved in this later component through the work of the Vail Leadership Institute.

Being a year-round resort community, Vail would benefit from more than just skiing, golf and the performing arts, I thought. With a campus of excellent facilities — hotels, clubs, huts, ranches, as well as the surrounding White River National Forest — I envisioned that we could build a learning economy, not unlike Santa Fe or Boulder or even Boston.

It might include several institutes or centers, perhaps a University of Vail, maybe one or two technical schools. And the learning would embrace renewal and rejuvenation, both of the body and the soul. After all, people have been coming to the mountains for millennia to restore themselves.

This vision isn’t something that can be achieved immediately. But having a sense of what this place might be like in the future was, and is, I felt, worth shooting for. Speaking only for myself, I hope that our community’s upcoming 50th anniversary will provide the impetus to examine the future.

What does the Vail Valley look like to you in the next 50 years? And are you engaged in ways to help realize that?

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character development program offered in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 926-7800 or

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