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Vail Daily column: A matter of heart

There are certain people who send me emails who get a nearly immediate response. Corinne Hara, of TEDx Vail and the Vail Leadership Institute, is one of those people. She and the other folks at TEDx and VLI are some of the linchpins around here. Due to the constraints of my own life-work balance, I rarely have time to move slowly. Fortunately, Hara was inviting me to a leadership lecture that would force me to do just that.

I walked into the Donovan Pavilion to hear Fred Martin, founding member of DGI, a multi-billion-dollar boutique investment firm of only 17 employees. They had outperformed the S&P in both good times and bad, and done so with significant margins. I tend to take counsel from people that have accomplished what I hope to do, so listening to a man who had been proving his leadership from the time he was a 20-something Navy officer was a unique opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up.

He was unremarkably dressed and gently dignified. Wonderfully unpolished and broad in his commentary, the untrained ear might have heard only a simple, hard-working man with deep convictions. Though I do not pretend to have a great ear for wisdom, I picked up a few things.



Obviously, to have break-away success, leaders need to have a baseline of technical skill, and it was clear that Martin had it. What struck me harder than anything else, however, was his nearly complete focus on the emotional and psychologically rational matters of leadership. It would not have mattered if he was coaching a kid’s soccer team or leading an army into battle — his heart and mind would have been positioned in a nearly identical way.

Usually, the leaders I follow are in a dead sprint to get somewhere. They point the way, tell me how to do it, offer to help, then leave me in the dust, wide-eyed and in sheer awe.

Technical skill — I’m not even sure what that means these days. There was a time when bankers would tape literal spreadsheets together on massively long desks in order to do calculations by hand. Now I use an oversimplified software package. It doesn’t eliminate the need to be able to know what you’re looking at when a customer hands you a tax return of course, but that’s not really how people like me demonstrate leadership and create success for our customers anyway.



I’m convinced that leadership and high performance is nearly exclusively a matter of heart. Bob Vanourek said it best in his book “Triple Crown Leadership.” Yes, you must have baseline skill. Yes, you need to have purpose, alignment, clear vision, etc. Once the definitions are out of the way though, what is it that separates tepid and transcendent results?

Leaders can’t be judged simply by the numbers or the quality of the followers they garner. In my own life, I’ve found that the people I want to follow are not usually the ones checking to see if I’m behind them. Usually, the leaders I follow are in a dead sprint to get somewhere. They point the way, tell me how to do it, offer to help, then leave me in the dust, wide-eyed and in sheer awe.

There is some internal force that is pushing them forward. It is transparently infectious. They temper the excitement to an appropriate level based on their industries, but just under the surface there is always a roaring fire of passion.



I watch as passion reveals itself in the way they move, the way they talk, the way their voices tremble when they touch on the mission that burns inside of them.

Clearly, these great leaders are never perfect. They are often deeply flawed human beings, sometimes quick tempered or impatient. I’ve stood toe to toe with men and women that I wanted to throw from an office window. Strangely, if they gave me an order, I would just as quickly yoke myself to them.

They have made a definite decision to do. What they decide to do is largely a matter of discretion, but clearly, when the choice is made, the task is practically done. It is no longer a question of if, but a question of when, and if they have anything to say about it, it will be soon.

And by the way, if you happen to be one of these great men and women, which I must suppose that you already are or are desiring to be, I hope you will recognize the critical nature of the decision you have made. Whether it’s in banking, bartending, or climbing that 14er that you’ve had your eye on — are you ready to run? People are watching from the sidelines — you just might pull them onto the field.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.

Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.

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