Lawyers Leading the Revolution

Lawyers Leading the RevolutionIt’s the 4th of July. And on this Election Year Independence Day, we yet again have a lawyer running for President of the United States. The last time neither presidential candidate attended law school? The 1980 election – Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan.

Lawyers have long-served as the leaders of our country. Of course there are my 25 lawyers, i.e. the lawyers who signed the Declaration of Independence. 26 of this country’s 44 presidents have been lawyers. If Hillary wins in November, she’ll be number 27. 68% of our vice presidents have been lawyers. 78% of our secretaries of state. And in the current Congress, 151 members of the House and 51 members of the Senate are lawyers. Incidentally, the number for Congress is much lower than it was in the past. In the mid-19th century, nearly 80% of Congress members were lawyers.

Lawyers are clearly this country’s leaders, and have been for a very long time. As law professor Deborah Rhodes points out, while lawyers are only 0.4% of the population, we are “well-represented” at all levels of leadership — as governors, state legislators, judges, prosecutors, general counsel, and law firm management. We are community leaders, philanthropic leaders, leaders in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods, leaders of business and leaders in business. Heck, we even led a Revolution.

Are Today’s Lawyers Good Leaders?

That said, in our own organizations, do we think of lawyers as great leaders? See, while lawyers are trained in many things, we usually aren’t trained in leadership. And while law schools more recently have been offering courses on leadership, the number pales in comparison to the multitude of leadership courses that business schools have long offered their students.

Take a look at this leadership word cloud. Read the number of different characteristics that make up being a good leader. Leaders motivate their teams, they’re open to collaboration, they take responsibility for their decisions, they know how to manage, they’re self-reliant but they’re also able to delegate, they’re experts at what they do, they are both inspiring and trusting. You respect and appreciate them. In turn they respect and appreciate you.

Do we see those qualities in our lawyer-leaders? Do we see those qualities in ourselves? If not, how can we change that?

Climbing the Leadership Ladder

Here’s a great way to start. John Maxwell, who is a lawyer and a leading author on leadership in the workplace, has something he calls the five levels of leadership. This isn’t hard evidence-backed research. Rather, it’s a way to think about what kind of leader you are now, and what kind of leader you can become.

Level 1 is position. Someone who gets a management role or a director role. A title. But a position doesn’t make you a leader. The people who follow you because they have to follow you, will give you the least amount of effort. They’re following you because they want to get paid. As Maxwell says, Level 1 is the difference between being a boss and a leader.

Level 2 is permission. Leading based on relationships. People are following you because you’ve connected with them. You’re a supervisor who people like. You like people and treat them like individuals who have value, allowing you to develop influence with them.

Level 3 is production. You get things done! It’s great if people like you, but if they’re not doing anything, then your company won’t move ahead.

Level 4 is people development. You are able to empower people. You use your position, relationships and productivity to invest in your followers and develop them until those followers become leaders in their own right. Teamwork increases because people feel as if you are invested in them. And performance increases, because there are more leaders on the team to help everybody’s performance.

Level 5 is pinnacle. Level 5 leaders develop Level 4 leaders. Level 5 leaders develop Level 5 organizations. You create legacy in what you do. That’s a revolutionary leader right there.

Leading The Revolutionized Workplace

But here’s the challenge facing our lawyer-leaders today. It’s not just a matter of “We weren’t trained to be leaders.” It’s also the challenge of today’s workplace. There’s a revolution happening right now. I call it the FutureWorkplace; one with a young, diverse population, a flat workplace, a 24-7 office, and a freelance workforce.

And now here’s where we tie in why we’re talking about leadership right now, with this new workforce. If you expect that you’re going to have a high turnover, because your employees are Millennials, if you expect them to fall through the pipeline because your employees are diverse, if you expect them to not commit to your organization because they can’t keep up with the 24/7 workplace, then you WILL lose people. More importantly, you’re going to lose people who are invested in you, people who you invested in. You’re going to have restart your leadership climb from Level 1 all over again.

That’s the challenge facing our lawyer-leaders today, leading that revolutionized workplace.

Now while Mr. Maxwell will tell you that if you’ve done it once, you can easily do it again, we all know it’s not that easy to get that kind of investment from people who work for you. It takes time. It takes energy. And that is time and energy that could be used on more efficient projects. You want to train people. You want to keep people. You don’t want to lose people.

So think about who you are. Think about what your values are. Think about what kind of leader you want to be. Where are you on your leadership ladder?

240 years ago, 25 lawyers led a Revolution that would eventually transform the world. Over the next two and a half centuries, lawyers have led every facet of American life. That mantle is yours to take, as a lawyer-leader in today’s revolutionary world. Happy 4th of July, everyone.

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

Share this:

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *