Third time’s the charm for retiring county manager
A tried-and-true military man, West Point-trained engineer and Harvard Business School graduate, Lee Staab has served as Grand County’s lead administrator over the last two years. But that will end next month as he officially enters retirement.
It will be his third attempt at retirement in his life — and this time he hopes it will stick.
“I retired two times before and failed,” said Staab, 62, with a wry smile. It was a bit of dry humor from a man whose demeanor tends towards hyper-professionalism.
Staab will step down from his current position effective Feb. 15.
His first attempt at retirement was in 2006, after serving nearly 28 years in the U.S. Army.
He ultimately reached the rank of colonel and held several noteworthy leadership positions, including as executive officer for the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon. He remembers being inside the Pentagon on 9/11, and thinks back fondly on his command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Europe. His final duty was serving as deputy commander of Fort Riley in Kansas.
After spending over three decades in public service, not including the eight years he spent as a private contractor working for the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan and Iraq, Staab said he is looking to spend more time with his wife, four children and 11 grandchildren.
Part of his retirement, he explained, will be an effort to repay his wife for her years of support as he traveled the globe while in the Army and for forcing his family to move 32 times during his career.
“She has allowed me to have fun for the last 40 years,” Staab said. “When I enter into retirement, I will be by her side. It is time to pay her back.”
He also wants to focus on volunteering, with plans to become involved with national veterans service nonprofits, especially those working with disabled veterans and wounded warriors.
“All of my success in life I owe to the U.S. military, the experiences I had there and the people I served with and commanded,” Staab said. “I want to give back to the military and the people I served with. Those people have given a lot to our country. Those are the true heroes.”
A family tradition
Staab’s lifelong career in public service is something of a family tradition.
Including his sons, who both served with the Armed Forces, the Staabs have a legacy of military service stretching back five generations.
His family first fell in love with Colorado in the early 1990s, while Staab was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“We had a lot of good times there and fond memories,” he said. “Our kids always liked Colorado. So we decided to come back here.”
After purchasing a home in Larkspur, Staab was called upon by his contacts in the Department of Defense who requested his help in overseeing reconstruction programs that were ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. Roughly 12 months after finalizing his retirement from the U.S. Army in 2006, Staab returned to an active combat zone digging into civil engineering projects such as military facilities, governmental agency buildings and police departments.
His stint as a contractor ended in summer 2014.
After returning home, Staab once again made plans to retire.
Those plans changed, however, after a junior officer, who he had previously commanded, recommended Staab become involved in local government. It sounded like an intriguing idea, and eventually led Staab to once again leave his family behind in Colorado when he accepted the position of city manager in Minot, North Dakota.
Minot had recently been inundated by severe flooding and Staab served in that position for over two years while the town secured $79 million in federal disaster relief funds.
But one day his son called him to talk about the future.
“My son called me up and said, ‘Dad, you were gone in the Middle East for almost eight years, now you’ve spent two years in North Dakota. At some point in time mom would like you to come home,’” he recalled.
He didn’t have to give up his dedication to public service, however, as his son informed him that Grand County had an opening for a new county manager.
“I applied and was blessed enough that the folks here offered me the opportunity,” Staab said.
A successful leader
Of his tenure in Grand County, the well-educated public servant said he is proudest of working with the various Grand County departments to develop a long-term strategic plan for the county government.
“I think we have a plan that will set the future for the county,” he said. “Regardless of who is the county manager, or who the commissioners are, if the county follows that plan and sets priorities based on that, I think the county will have very good direction.”
But Grand County’s ongoing struggle with affordable housing presented the most challenging aspect for Staab, who admitted that the county has not been able to solve the issue.
“As real estate continues to escalate in the county, how do we resolve that issue?” he wondered aloud. “It is a very complex problem.”
During his decades of military experience, working as a private contractor and serving as a local government administrator, Staab has developed a deep understanding of leadership and the traits and habits that yield success, including distinguishing between management and leadership and understanding the importance of effective communication.
His leadership philosophy can be distilled into a single phrase, one he found that every culture and language that he interacted with during his time in the military were familiar with in some form.
“My one sentence was the golden rule,” Staab said. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Something Staab also finds important, not only in leadership but also in life, is the significance of small gestures.
As a young lieutenant, Staab had a man ask him how many people were on his Christmas card list.
He had to think a moment. “It was my family and my wife’s family; about four or five,” he said.
The man looked at Staab and said, “You need to get a bigger Christmas card list.”
Almost 40 years later, Staab corresponds every year with those he has served with, the people whose lives he has touched and those who have touched his.
“I have almost 400 Christmas cards I send out,” he said. “Now when I hear from these folks, some from parents of kids who I commanded, it makes me realize the most important thing I have experienced in my professional career are the people who I had the opportunity to serve with.”
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