Susan Smith Blakely

Leadership 101 For Women Lawyers

We all are -- or we should be – thinking a lot about leadership these days. This is an important week as we witness the peaceful transfer of power from one national leader to another here in the United States of America. It is what distinguishes our democracy, and it should not be missed, even if your candidate is not being sworn in.

I will be doing my part for the inauguration by participating in a leadership program that, every four years, brings college students to DC to witness the inauguration and hear from leaders in a variety of career areas. I will have the opportunity to speak to at least 200 collegians and talk with them in one-on-one settings to answer their questions about careers in the law. I am looking forward to contributing to this program, where a lot of the discussion will be about leadership and what makes an effective leader.

So, what are the qualities that we should be looking for in a leader? That is what I wrote about in my book, “Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers”(Wolters Kluwer Law & Business and Aspen Publishers 2015), and it is a really important subject.  Although that book focused on law firm leaders, the concepts are easily transferable to leaders in other settings.

The important leadership concepts that I discuss in that book came from one of the gurus of leadership, Marshall Goldsmith, who has been identified by such venerable institutions like the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review as one of the best leadership trainers in the world. After spending a weekend with him and almost fifty other “students” several years ago as part of my own leadership and coaching certification, I understood a lot about the difference between talking about leadership and walking the leadership path. Here is some of what I learned.

Effective leaders focus on the needs of those they lead as much as they focus on their own personal needs. Leadership involves a lot of listening and less speech-making than you might think, which is not always so easy because we all love to talk about ourselves. By talking all the time, however, we miss getting new and fresh ideas from others. We also miss the opportunity to help others problem solve, and we pass up the opportunity to develop leaders for the future.

Here are some of the most important behaviors of an effective leader.  An effective leader:

  • Encourages open dialogue that includes and values the participation of others;
  • Exhibits positive values and fair behavior that will attract and encourage future leaders;
  • Identifies what makes some individuals fall away from the group and provides incentive for them to re-engage; and
  • Champions, praises, rewards and gives proper recognition for the achievement of others.

And, here are the things that an effective leader does NOT do:

  • Value winning over everything else and signal that he or she is right and everyone else is wrong;
  • Easily exhibit harsh judgment about others and make destructive remarks;
  • Speak when angry;
  • Claim credit when it is not deserved;
  • Make excuses and refuse to express regret;
  • Play favorites; and
  • Punish the messenger.

Keep these things in mind as you watch the events of the rest of the week unfold. In addition to the inauguration itself, there is a lot to learn about effective leadership --- or lack thereof --- by watching the confirmation hearings for the president-elect's cabinet-level appointments.

We have a whole new set of "leaders" coming to town, and we hope they will be effective and deserving of their titles.  How do you think they measure up so far?

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