Susan Smith Blakely

Values-Based Leadership is a Good Fit For Women Lawyers

You know that leadership is one of my favorite themes.  When you develop leadership that is "values based," it is a home run in almost every case.   Values-Based Leadership (VBL) is a leadership philosophy that goes beyond evaluating success by prestige, personal wealth and power. It is founded on identifying what matters to you, what you stand for and what is most important in your life. Knowing your values and determining your purpose from those values makes decisions about life and leadership easier.

Why are values important?  You need to know your values so that they can guide your sense of purpose.  Without purpose we may as well be ships lost at sea.  So, the logical place to start is with your values.  What are yours?  Or, more fundamentally, what is a "value" at all?  You may think that you know, but you also may need a refresher course.

Values are the things that we find important and respectable as individuals, what is at the essence of who and what we are, and what gives us purpose. Values are different from ethics and morals.  Each person’s values are unique to that person, and most people have between five to seven core values each.  Examples of values are adventure, growth and risk taking, sensitivity to the feelings of others, trustworthiness, innovation and security.   True values are those that guide us in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.  The sense of purpose that we get from knowing our values makes us good leaders.  (Unless, of course, those core values are dark and evil, and that is an entirely different matter!)

When we align our behavior with our values on a daily basis, we have more energy and present as more authentic because we are leading from what’s important to us.  And, make no mistake, those who you are leading know the difference.  They can spot a phony a mile away.  As long as your motives are good, they care less about your particular values and more about how you authentically portray those values.  We all like to follow a leader we admire because it makes us feel good about our choice, good about ourselves, and good about our mission.

You need to purposefully remind yourself of your values, and, you need to evaluate big decisions, like job offers, promotions and work-life dilemmas, with those same values in mind.  To be a good leader of others, you need to be a good leader of yourself.

Values-Based Leadership seems to be a good fit for women lawyers.  It is the type of introspective thinking that women gravitate toward, and it is very useful in learning how to work on teams and find solutions among divergent opinions.  Understanding your own values and those of others --- and what makes each of you "tick" --- is an important tool in both your personal and professional lives.

For more on Values Based Leadership, see this article and those that follow in the series from Anne Loehr & Associates: Developing Authentic and Transformational Leadership.

Good luck in getting in touch with your values and your purpose.  Let it lead you and others where you want to go.


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a 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.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit


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