being lawyers · leadership · professional life

Leadership in law

Leadership is a lot of things and is not a lot of things.

People have different ideas of leadership and it can often be a negative experience with an employer/boss that teaches us what we feel leadership really is and what it’s not. If we desire leadership in our own futures, it may also inform us what kind of leaders we want to be. There are quotes aplenty when it comes to leadership. Here’s a few of my favourites:

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – John F Kennedy

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“He [*She] who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander” – Aristotle

“No man [*or woman] will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself [*or herself] or get all the credit for doing it” – Andrew Carnegie

“We cannot ask others to do what we have not done ourselves” – Christiana Figueres

“Leadership is service to others” – Denise Morrison

[*some of my own adjustments added].

There are also some great books on leadership. Many with anecdotes and formulas of what makes a good leader. It would be remiss of me to talk of leadership without acknowledging the difference in leadership styles and approaches. The different attributes of different types of leaders are clearly evident then when, typically, you’re looking at male leaders and female leaders. To be very clear here, that is not to say that males or females are better or worse in leadership roles than the other. Lack of leadership skill does not discriminate between the genders. For years now, we have spoken of leadership attributes of females that are rarely, if ever, seen in male leaders. We speak of empathy, compassion, love, kindness, acceptance, sensitivity, self-awareness, inclusion, organised, creative, openness etc etc. These attributes are typically and historically assigned to women by nature. These attributes can also be typically and historically considered to be weak. Recently, as a result of the incredibly shocking and heartbreaking events in Christchurch, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, demonstrated attributes of sincere leadership that have often been overlooked or undervalued; integrity, sincerity, empathy, compassion and love. Reading various articles about her leadership, I found that it was the first time that I had seen, in mainstream media on the world stage, a female leader being celebrated for attributes that have historically been viewed as weak or less than desirable in a leader. So many articles, like this onethis onethis one and this one. All of these articles are championing these attributes and silencing critics around the world for this woman’s approach to leadership. Finally, a woman has demonstrated that leadership is more than what it has historically been showcased. Finally, a woman in power has demonstrated that these attributes are moving, powerful and can help achieve great things. When it comes to law, there a few things about leadership (or lack thereof) that always stand out to me.

Leadership is not….

  • A title
  • Being bossy or demanding
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
  • Seeking answers without knowing the question
  • Bullying and/or belittling others
  • Demanding the destination without understanding the path
  • Undermining others
  • Valuing experience over potential
  • Taking credit for others work
  • Determining the value of each person based on the same thing
  • Simply telling people what to do
  • Always being right
  • Raising your voice
  • Not listening
  • Avoiding or forgetting leadership development
  • Thinking your better than anyone else
  • Talking at your people

Leadership is….

  • Leading by example
  • Teaching and mentoring
  • Knowing your people and understanding their strengths and weaknesses
  • Giving support, especially when the chips are down
  • Encouraging and empowering people
  • Having a plan and executing it
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Setting a standard by demonstrating that standard
  • Being the change
  • Having clear vision
  • Lifting your people up
  • Giving credit where it is due
  • Celebrating wins (big and small)
  • Sharing in reflection on the losses collectively
  • Having and demonstrating integrity
  • Communicating effectively
  • Giving meaningful and constructive feedback
  • Not being afraid to say “I don’t know”
  • Admitting mistakes
  • Talking with your people

You don’t need to have a title such as partner/director, special counsel, senior associate, associate etc etc to be a leader. You can dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Act like a leader, if that’s what you want to be. Demonstrate leadership skills in your job and they will shine through. Take opportunities where they present themselves, and seek them our when they don’t. The chatter around the world about leadership attributes is thought-provoking and driving change. Change and evolution can demonstrate how some of these attributes that leaders and aspiring leaders can (or do) embody can encourage those leaders and their teams to embrace the power of such a change now and in the future. This blog post seeks to speak to and support aspiring leaders and encourage them to seek leadership if they, too, see value in championing these attributes for their own teams or from within their current team or community; To challenge and, if appropriate, educate those who are currently in leadership and to aid self-awareness and reflection; To help people gain perspective of leadership from other walks of life (and those walks may be people just like those that are a part of their own team) to help them succeed in leadership; To drive change and forward thinking; To champion the lesser-welcome or lesser-known attributes of modern leadership in an ever-evolving society to show the world that they are powerful.

What do you think makes a leader? Do you have a favourite quote about leadership?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s