Vail Daily column: Lessons for a budding leader

Editor’s note: Rich Staats is the founder of Secret Stache Media. He often refers to himself as a Frankenstein web professional, as his education in the digital space stems from bits and pieces across the open web. A product of the open source community, Staats is obsessed with information architecture, search visibility and experimental marketing strategies.

What has been your most impactful leadership experience?

I’m not so sure that I’ve made a huge impact as a leader just yet, but as part of the snowboard community I managed a fundraising event called Love for the Ladies, which in four years raised more than $56,000 for the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. It was 100 percent grass roots with a non-existing budget and managed by the local subculture of freeskiers and snowboarders. It was fantastic to see our core group of shredders come together and pull off such an amazing event. It ran for four years, and I definitely miss it.

How would you describe your leadership approach or philosophy?

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I’m confident that leading by example is best, but I think that the best leaders have figured that out in both their personal lives as well as their professional lives. Leaders don’t have the luxury of keeping their personal lives separate from business. They receive too much attention and scrutiny. The best leaders have their personal lives figured out. I’m not quite there, but I have definitely made progress of the past few years.

And how has that evolved over time?

Well, “leading by example” is really ambiguous, so I suppose that over time, I’ve started to implement theory into practice to see what really works for me. I don’t have a lot of experience leading at Secret Stache Media. We’ve only just now started to grow, and I am absolutely feeling the growing pains of management. I’ve had to schedule time to audit my own role as a manager, and the roundtable of leaders group has been invaluable for that.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

No matter how easy it is to blame someone else, always own up to your mistakes. It’s that simple, really.

What program have you been involved with at the Vail Leadership Institute and what have you taken from that experience?

I took “Listening to Your Business” about a year ago, and I am currently a member of the young entrepreneurs roundtable group. I also just recently enrolled in “Exploring Entrepreneurship” to help build out the business model of a new product we are building at Secret Stache Media. My roundtable group has been one of the best experiences I have ever had, both professionally and personally. I really find it hard to talk about my business to family or friends. They just don’t really care enough to invest in the conversation. Our group has filled a huge void in my life, and I look forward to our bi-monthly meetings more than anything else. It doesn’t hurt that I’m surrounded by smarter people, which is where I want to be as often as possible.

What needs to be done in your community now that you are excited about doing?

I have a long-term vision of making the Vail Valley a satellite hub for the tech community. Not another Palo Alto or Austin, but rather a tech community that weaves health and lifestyle into their way of thinking. The beauty of Vail is our culture, but our economy is tied very closely to a vessel that is for the most part out of our control. I’d like to really research what drives a lifestyle economy like ours and figure out how we thrive despite being a resort-vacation destination. No easy task, for sure.

Tell me about the culture you’re trying to create at your company.

The beauty of being a digital firm is that we can work anywhere. Distributed teams are currently all the rage, and I promote them at Secret Stache Media. But I would love to build an in-house culture where people prefer to be here, in the Vail Valley, and as a recruitment strategy, we promote things like half-day powder days and wellness packages for extracurricular activities. I love the energy a team gets when they work together physically, and I want to create a culture of people who actually want to be in the office as opposed to working in their sweatpants remotely.

Any people who were big influences on you?

My dad, for sure. He was a colonel in the Army before moving into aeronautical engineering. He wasn’t an engineer, but ran huge teams of engineers. He knows a thing or two about leadership. He has always had this way of making me feel like all of my ridiculous life decisions were spot on. When I decided to move to Colorado seven or so years ago, everyone in my life thought I was crazy. Everyone but him. I take everything he says about business and life seriously. He’s seen more of life (good and bad) than anyone I’ve ever met and he has always come out on top.

The Vail Valley has many ethical, effective leaders. By helping them tell their stories, the Vail Leadership Institute hopes to inspire others to engage the heart in leadership.

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