Guest Column: Squaw Valley — a new direction for leadership |

Guest Column: Squaw Valley — a new direction for leadership

Jennifer Gurecki

A good chunk of the debate about whether or not Olympic Valley should incorporate has been focused on the pros and cons of development. But what if we explored this issue through a different lens? The more pressing issue at hand is not whether or not to move forward with the redevelopment of Squaw Valley, but rather it is an issue of leadership.

Do we want to live in communities where leaders are appointed by corporations and not elected by residents? Can high-powered executives effectively balance the triple bottom line of people, profit and planet, or will the interest of shareholders and boards of directors trump community needs?

The concept of what a leader embodies and how leadership is practiced is both nuanced and evolving. Leadership today is more about doing than it is about being; it is about serving others and serving a higher purpose. It isn't about holding power, and in fact, that concept of a leader is increasingly challenged.

Yet it is at the heart of the issue with Squaw Valley. Andy Wirth, operating from a traditional perspective of leadership, has approached the entire development process (and their fight against Incorporate Olympic Valley) from a traditional outlook on leadership, in which an individual and/or an entity assumes the role as a leader through power.

KSL Capital Partners has only been owner of Squaw Valley since 2010, but has been operating inside of a community that existed for decades before their arrival. Yet, they behave as if their voices and concerns are more important than that of local residents. Perhaps they could have avoided the incredibly expensive campaign they have launched to squash local and grassroots leaders had they reevaluated and redesigned their approach to emphasize empowering, inclusive and collaborative engagement with the community.

This apparent disconnect between what communities require of leaders today and the actions of KSL/Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has left Wirth in a challenging situation, one in which his responsibilities as the CEO of Squaw Valley and as a member of the community overlap.

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Wirth's position as a leader was bestowed upon him by KSL. He was not elected, nor was he chosen by the community. His role as a leader relies heavily on his position of power within a corporate entity. And that's the rub. For the most part, people do not support corporations calling all of the shots in communities, and all over the world, people are proactively fighting back to regain control of their communities.

A new way forward for KSL could include prioritizing servant and transformational leadership in their approach. Servant leadership is radically different than traditional models of leadership, which have proven to be ineffective in dealing with complex problems and diverse constituents. Because servant leaders ensure that other people's highest priorities are being served, it provides an opportunity for them to consider both the individuals within their organization, but also those outside of the organization who are directly impacted by their leadership.

Servant leaders consciously choose to serve first, which results in their aspiration to then lead. Operating from a desire to positively impact society, servant leaders see themselves as people who create change. Because their primary purpose is to serve others, this allows them to consider a holistic view of otherness that includes not only people, but the environment, as well. In the case of business, adopting servant leadership allows people to operate from a triple-bottom-line, one in which both people and the planet are held in the highest regard and as equally important as profit.

The case of Olympic Valley should be a stark reminder about the critical nature of leadership when dealing with change and uncertainty. Where Mr. Wirth and his leadership team have failed is in their ability to incorporate a holistic view of leadership, one that expands beyond the boundaries of their operations and into the constructs of community. Developing their competency in transformational and servant leadership could repair the broken relationships and lead to a greater resonance within the community.

Regardless of whether or not Incorporate Olympic Valley succeeds in its attempt to become an incorporated town, KSL (or the next corporate entity that purchases Squaw Valley) will have to engage at a high level with the leaders who have spawned the movement. They will continue to remain outspoken and engaged, driven by their acumen and passion, both of which will supersede any traditional power that confronts them.

Jennifer Gurecki is a Truckee resident.