Q & A with Jonathan Hagman, RFL Academy alum

Jonathan during a recent trip to Spain.

Carbondale native Jonathan Hagman has built a life and career around making things. When he was in fourth grade, his family moved to Woody Creek near Aspen, into a house designed and built by his architect father. Jonathan has gravitated to pursuits involving creativity and movement ever since — from competing at the international synchronized skiing championships (yes, it’s a real thing!), to traveling the world as a professional white water kayaking instructor, to studying ceramics in college, and then opening an artists’ collective in Portland, OR. After returning to the Roaring Fork Valley, Jonathan became the art installation director at the Aspen Art Museum, a position that melded his design skills with his innate people skills. We spoke to Jonathan recently about how the tools he learned at RFL Academy have helped him step into leadership positions in his latest career ventures: buying a teak farm in Costa Rica and helping build alternative homes for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. 

Roaring Fork Leadership: What led you to RFL? 

Jonathan Hagman: I was encouraged to do the program by the Aspen Art Museum, which paid for my tuition. My boss saw how important it would be for me to be able to step away from more hands-on type work, and learn those soft skills that prepare you for higher level leadership — being able to communicate well with my team, delegate as needed etc.   

RFL: How did your RFL experience shape you as a leader? 

Jonathan at the construction site in New Mexico building homes for the Pine Ridge Reservation.

JH: It’s in my nature to connect with people and my skillset definitely revolves around communication and relationship building. RFL helped amplify and boost who I already was, in ways that I couldn’t foresee. What RFL helped me do was connect with my whole team at the museum in individual ways — to understand where their lives are personally and workwise and then figure out how to work within that context. RFL gave me a lot of good skills around being “soft” with my employees. Every morning, before we started work, we’d get together, do some funny stretching, move around, have a quick check in. We didn’t do it every day, but it helped build a good team dynamic when we did.  

RFL: Tell us about the new venture you’ve embarked on in New Mexico. How have you leveraged your leadership skills to be successful? 

JH: We’re building these alternative dome-shaped shelters as homes for people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I showed up wanting to just learn the process and be told what to do — not to be in any sort of leadership role. And that lasted like two days before I became essentially an operational manager. I had these skills managing people and projects that were transferable and really crucial — asking the right questions, maintaining patience, and also providing space for people to be able to express what’s going on with them. RFL taught me to not impose yourself too fast. To learn first, then adapt, then askthe hard questions. What are our goals? Where are we at with this?  It was a great learning process. And it totally transformed the whole way they operate as far as communication, organization, and planning.