Lessons on High Performance from 5 Very Different Leader

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While that may sound like a setup for a bad joke, this eclectic ensemble did, indeed, appear together on stage last week and shared an impressive array of insights on leading change, and driving performance.

It was all part of the opening session of the ThinAir Park City 2017 Innovation Festival, a three-day retreat with more than 50 speakers and nearly 1,000 attendees who gathered in Utah’s picturesque Wasatch mountain range to discuss performance leadership through the themes of culture, data, customers and products.

In the end, five people from diverse backgrounds, including Intermountain Healthcare President and CEO Dr. Marc Harrison, hit on somewhat different but connected themes as they related their own unique experiences and spoke about factors they saw as keys to high performance. Following are some of the highlights from each:

Dave Pottruck

The series of on-stage conversations, panel discussion and audience Q&A was moderated by Pottruck, chairman of wealth management firm HighTower Advisors and former CEO of brokerage giant Charles Schwab. He shared his experience of recognizing the dotcom opportunity early and guiding his firm through a transition to Internet-based trading that resulted in many years of exponential growth. To him, one of the keys to being a successful leader is winning the war for talent. Another is genuinely listening.

Key quote:

"Come to the conversation curious. Don’t just go through the motions of listening.”

Michelle MacLaren

As one of the executive producers on the mega-hit show Breaking Bad, MacLaren has been awarded two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two PGA awards, a Peabody, as well as several other nominations including two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series. Some of her other credits also include episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, AMC’s The Walking Dead, and The X-Files, among others. When asked about what she sees as the biggest drivers of strong performance, MacLaren was quick to emphasize keeping an open mind and listening. 

Key quote:

“I come to the set prepared with a plan, but I know there may be others with different ideas. I welcome them all, listen to all input, and I’ll change my plans if it helps make us better.”

Marc Harrison, MD

As president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Harrison agrees wholeheartedly with the notion that effective leaders must win the war for talent. But he sees the goal as going even deeper. “We need to win the war for commitment to the mission,” he said, signifying that complete and total buy-in to the Intermountain mission of “Helping people live the healthiest lives possible” is an absolute must in the quest to find and hire talent. He also hit on the importance of building on and sharing Intermountain’s longstanding model of evidence-based medicine and not performing services patients don’t need, which may leave revenue on the table for healthcare providers, but can also result in better outcomes and lower costs to the overall system. He believes strongly that when people have the facts, they make very rational decisions about costs and access to care. 

Key quote:

“We’re acting from a position of strength against a rapidly evolving landscape. Healthcare is human and we’re here to serve. You can’t make someone better if there’s no access.”

Shanna Tellerman

As a former partner at Google Ventures, former founder and CEO of Sim Ops Studios (acquired by Autodesk), and current co-founder and CEO of Modsy (a home design visualization tool and one-stop digital catalogue), Tellerman admits to being a serial entrepreneur. And like many successful entrepreneurs, her most recent undertaking began when she faced an unmet need. She described her frustration when designing her new home she encountered unlimited ideas, catalogues, websites and stores, but no practical solution for seeing and imagining it all within the context of her own home. So she assembled a diverse team that helped mold, enhance and bring to life the vision she had. 

Key quote:

“Our team doesn’t look like a normal tech company, and I think that adds to building a great product. You end up with fresh thinking and different perspectives.”

Chris Fischer


As a child, Fischer loved the water and loved to fish. Later, that passion landed him a role hosting an ESPN show called “Offshore Adventures.” Over time, he interacted with enough marine experts to understand the precarious balance of aquatic life because of a dearth of information about the great white shark – the balance keepers, as he calls them. Fischer started OCEARCH in 2007 as an enterprise that would enable leading scientists to study giant sharks – “for the first time in their careers, to get their hands on live, mature specimens, to try to leverage the latest technology to save their lives." His organization “open sources” all data it collects, sharing not only with researchers worldwide, but engaging the public as well. The organization maintains the global Shark Tracker app, which allows anyone to watch in real time as tagged sharks traverse the world’s oceans. 

Key quote:

“The more we know about these apex predators, the more we’ll be able to help them and keep ocean life sustainable. I want my great-grandkids to be able to eat a fish sandwich.”

Although their respective lines of work – finance, entertainment, healthcare, home design, and marine research – have little in common, at least one unifying trait was on clear display among each leader sitting together on stage: passion. They all believe deeply in and are passionate about the work they do and the lessons that guide their actions – lessons they shared openly and freely: genuinely listening, welcoming input from others, openly sharing information, trusting people to make good decisions, and valuing diversity. There are clear connections between healthcare and each of those lessons, and we would do well to learn all we can from this unexpected collection of leaders.

Link to learn more about the opening night of ThinAir Park City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTUkLdxmjI8