Leadership in law.

Author:Rhode, Deborah L.
Position:2017 Stanford Law Review Symposium; Raising the Bar: Lawyers and Leadership

Table of Contents Introduction I. The Nature of Leadership A. The Qualities of Leaders B. Values in Leadership C. The Paradoxes of Leadership D. Styles of Leadership E. Leadership Strategies II. Developing Leadership A. Obstacles to Leadership Development B. Learning Strategies C. Organizational Initiatives III. Diversity in Leadership A. Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Stereotypes B. In-Group Bias C. Workplace Structures D. Diversity as a Leadership Imperative IV. The Legacy of Leadership Introduction

It is a shameful irony that the occupation that produces the nation's greatest share of leaders does so little to prepare them for that role. Although the legal profession accounts for less than 1% of the population, it has supplied a majority of American presidents and, in recent decades, almost half the members of Congress. (1) Lawyers are also well represented at all levels of leadership as governors; state legislators; judges; prosecutors; general counsel; law firm managing partners; and heads of corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations. (2) Even when they do not occupy top positions in their workplaces, lawyers lead teams, committees, task forces, and charitable initiatives. Yet although many law schools claim to be producing leaders, only a small minority even offer courses in the subject. (3) Leadership development is a $50 billion industry, but legal education has lagged behind. (4) This Symposium marks the first time that a leading law review has focused on the subject.

Attention is long overdue. Over two-thirds of Americans think that the nation has a leadership crisis. (5) Only 18% of the public rates the honesty and ethical standards of lawyers as high or very high. (6) Just 11% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in leaders in charge of running law firms. (7) Trust in legal and political institutions is near a historic low; as of June 2016, only 3696 of Americans felt a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, only 23% felt such confidence in the criminal justice system, and only 9% felt such confidence in Congress. (8) Following the 2016 election, only one-third of Americans had confidence that Donald Trump would provide "real leadership" as President; 43% had "absolutely no confidence" that he would do so. (9)

Yet the need for effective leadership has never been greater. Lawyers who lead face challenges of unprecedented scale and complexity. As heads of law firms, in-house legal departments, and government and nonprofit organizations, lawyers confront managerial and policy issues of enormous professional and public significance. In the private sector, attorneys run legal workplaces with thousands of employees in multiple jurisdictions under intense competitive pressures. In the public sector, attorneys are at the forefront of efforts to address the world's most pressing problems: human rights violations, social injustice, climate change, terrorism, inequality, and poverty. And the quality of their leadership skills is a key factor in organizational performance. (10)

The Stanford Law Review's 2017 Symposium brings together leaders from all walks of legal practice and has symbolic as well as practical significance. In February 2017, heads of public interest and governmental organizations, law firm managing partners, general counsel, law school deans, state supreme court justices, and leadership scholars gathered to discuss challenges that they have faced and how lawyers can be prepared to address them. Such efforts are important milestones in persuading the legal profession in general and the legal academy in particular of the need for more systematic leadership development.

To that end, this Article summarizes key insights from contemporary leadership research. Part I explores the qualities and styles that make for effective leadership. Part II focuses on how lawyers can develop those capabilities. Part III describes barriers facing women and lawyers of color. Part IV looks at leaders' legacies and the research necessary to promote their effectiveness.

  1. The Nature of Leadership

    A threshold question in preparing lawyers as leaders is what, exactly, constitutes leadership. That issue, as I have noted previously, has generated a "cottage industry of commentary," which reportedly includes "over 1,500 definitions and forty distinctive theories." (11) Although popular usage sometimes equates leadership with power or position, most experts view leadership as an activity or relationship that involves influence. (12) John Gardner, founder of Common Cause, (13) notes that heads of organizations often mistakenly assume that their status "has given them a body of followers. And of course it has not. They have been given subordinates. Whether the subordinates become followers depends on whether the executives act like leaders." (14) Leaders must be able to inspire, not just compel or direct those who work under them. To borrow a metaphor from Harvard's Joseph Nye, holding a title "is like having a fishing license; it does not guarantee you will catch any fish." (15) Nor is a formal leadership position essential to exercise leadership. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are celebrated examples of prominent leaders without such positions.

    Focusing on leadership as a relationship can help avoid what researchers label the "leader attribution error": our tendencies to overvalue the roles of leaders and to underestimate the importance of followers. (16) "Leadership is not a solo act[;] it[ is] a team effort." (17) Many institutional failures reflect the inability of leaders to forge effective relationships with those who work for or with them. Part of the reason for paralysis in institutions such as our contemporary Congress is that they have all leaders and no followers.

    The discussion that follows explores the qualities, styles, and strategies that make for effective leadership. It begins by identifying characteristics that appear most critical across a wide variety of contexts: values; vision; substantive competence; and personal and interpersonal skills such as self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and persuasion. The analysis then drills down on the importance of values; it looks at the factors that contribute to moral meltdowns, the leadership strategies that can help prevent them, and the opportunities for leaders to express their ethical commitments through pro bono service. Attention then turns to certain leadership paradoxes. One is the disconnect between motivations that drive leaders and motivations necessary for their success. Another is the mismatch between the characteristics people claim to value in leaders and the characteristics used to select them. This Part concludes by exploring leadership styles and strategies. Discussion centers on how to motivate and mentor subordinates, communicate effectively in diverse settings, and foster innovation.

    1. The Qualities of Leaders

      The qualities necessary for leadership turn partly on context, including its historical, cultural, psychological, and institutional dimensions. (18) Effective leadership depends on a match between individuals' strengths and situational requirements. The skills needed to run a large global law firm, for instance, are not the same as those needed to launch a small public interest organization or to win a state governor's race. What some commentators label the "leadership sweet spot" is the intersection of competencies and context. (19)

      Over the last half century, some one thousand studies have produced no "clear profile of the ideal leader." (20) Even the much-celebrated quality of charisma is not necessarily related to popular support or organizational success. (21) Cultures also vary in the importance that they ascribe to particular leadership traits, such as aggressiveness and risk-taking. (22) Researchers do, however, find certain qualities that are important across a wide range of contexts. They cluster in five categories:

      1. values (such as integrity, honesty, trust, and an ethic of service); (23)

      2. personal skills (such as self-awareness, self-control, self-direction, persistence, and conscientiousness); (24)

      3. interpersonal skills (such as social awareness, empathy, persuasion, and conflict management); (25)

      4. vision (such as being forward-looking and inspirational); (26) and

      5. substantive competence (such as knowledge, preparation, and judgment). (27)

      A 2010 survey of leaders of professional services firms (including law firms) similarly found that the most important leadership qualities involved personal values and interpersonal skills such as integrity; empathy; communication; and the ability to listen, inspire, and influence. (28)

      At the abstract level, few would disagree about the desirability of these characteristics in leaders. At the practical level, however, their relative importance varies across contexts and situational pressures may tug in different directions. For example, Ralph Nader was extraordinarily effective during the activism of the 1960s and 1970s in galvanizing a progressive consumer movement. (29) But he was far less successful decades later in running presidential campaigns on similar issues. (30) The self-righteous iconoclasm that served him well in one historical era worked against him as a third-party candidate in a different political climate. (31) Hillary Clinton's deep policy expertise contributed to her success as a Senator and as the Secretary of State but did not allow her to connect with enough voters to prevail in the 2016 presidential election. (32)

      Of all the qualities important for leadership, the most critical is self-knowledge. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, self-awareness is the primary characteristic that distinguishes successful leaders; it provides the foundation for professional development and correspondingly promotes organizational performance. (33) The first step on lawyers' paths to leadership...

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