Susan Smith Blakely

Do Women Lawyers and Other Women Leaders Have to Be Nice?

A lot has been written in the last few days about what makes a good woman leader.  Those discussions have been within the context of the political arena, which is not too surprising because the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a powerful woman, and the roster of persons announcing to run for POTUS in 2020 is full of powerful women.

So we have read here how Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota and proclaimed presidential candidate, is perceived by some of her staff as "not nice" and even "mean."  And today we read here that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, uses her experience as the mother of five and grandmother of nine to guide her in keeping the House of Representatives and her caucus moving forward, deal successfully with divergent opinions, build consensus, and avoid chaos among elected officials.

Reading these articles will be very helpful to you in fashioning yourselves as effective female leaders.  I don't just know that from reading the articles myself, but I know that from my own experiences as a mother, as a chief of staff for an elected official, and as a trial lawyer.  Those experiences have a lot in common.

Those experiences taught me that you should not always want to be liked.  You should not need to have everyone think you are nice.  It is not necessary to make a friend out of everyone.  Sometimes it has to be enough to get the job done well.  

If I had wanted to be a friend to my children and always be perceived as being nice, I would have very different children today than the ones I have, who learned to buck adversity and plow through challenges.  I would have very different children today than the two young lawyers, who make me proud every day of my life.

Instead, I made the tough calls and told them that my job was not to be liked by them.  My job was to make them into responsible and valuable members of society.  Ask them.  They will tell you.  They will remember telling me that they did not like me because I would not let them do X, Y or Z and hearing me answer, "Good.  Then I am doing my job."

As a trial lawyer, I had to carry on before judges, who I knew did not accept my presence in the courtroom and probably did not like me.  They surely did not approve of me.  The early 1980's were a lot different for women lawyers than current times.  Judges called me "little girl" --- even a federal judge --- and, after a week's trial, the judge still only referred to me as "she" and "her."  No place for "counselor" for the women lawyers in his courtroom.

But, that could not matter to me.  I was not in that courtroom to be liked.  I was in that courtroom to make my case.  End of story.

As the chief of staff to an elected official, I had to demand a lot of our staff.  I had to critique them, dismiss their ideas, refuse to listen to their complaints about each other, and return work to them replete with edits in green ink.  (I learned as a teaching fellow in law school never to edit in red because the result looked like a leftover from a bloody war.)

Creating the best possible product, whether it was a letter, a public policy piece, proposed legislation, or a television show, was what my job was all about.  I hoped that the people I managed saw it that way, but if they did not, it could not concern me.  There is plenty for me to look back on and know that I did a fine job, the staff acquired improved skills, the boss got re-elected, and I did not step too far outside the bounds of being a nice person most of the time.

So, I can only imagine that a lot of what the staffs of really powerful women --- like Amy Klobuchar and Nancy Pelosi --- have to say about them derives from the frustration of being on the other end of agendas that they may not understand.  Agendas to do the best for the most.

Anyway, that is the way I see it.

 

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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