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Bar News - February 19, 2010

New Lawyers Column: Five Steps to Developing The Leader in You


Jennifer L. Parent
John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

From a managing partner of a firm to a chair of a Bar section to a member of a board of directors of an organization, attorneys are constantly assuming leadership roles. We encounter these leaders every day. But what does it take to be a leader? What are the skills required for leadership? How are leadership skills developed? Are leaders born or are they created?

This article takes the position that leaders can be made and those who want to be leaders can acquire leadership ability.

Development of leadership skills and leadership qualities can start at any stage in your profession. As a newer lawyer, take the opportunity to build your leadership skills now. Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Get Involved. To be a leader, you must take the first step and get involved. Do not wait for someone to ask you to sign up or participate. Take the initiative and join an association, section, committee, or community group. You cannot be a leader unless you have something to lead.

Leadership opportunities are many and encompass all facets of our professional and personal life. As Jim Tenn, president of the New Hampshire Bar Association, says, "You can be a leader in your workplace, your bar association, or your community." You just need to participate.

In choosing what to become involved in, find something you love doing and do it. You need to discover what is right for you. Remember, when you are pursuing your passions, others cannot help but be motivated by you.

Elizabeth Acee, past chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and current ABA House of Delegates representative, explains that she became involved in the YLD through her work with the Women in the Law Committee of the Connecticut Bar Association. Following the success of a program run in her state, Acee traveled to her first YLD meeting in Alaska to present that program to others and she has not looked back since. Acee offers the advice: "To be a successful leader, you need to be truly passionate about what you are doing."

2. Do Good Work. Once you are involved in an organization or group, you must be committed to doing good work. Do not join just to join. If you are going to be involved, do it right. Make a commitment to getting the job done and done well. Attend the meetings, participate while there, and volunteer to take on projects.

It’s important to follow through on responsibilities delegated to you. A competent, hard-working, and committed person gains the approval and trust of colleagues. People follow those they respect. As Acee explains, "All leaders seem to possess certain common characteristics: dedication, hard work, and the ability to recognize opportunities to make a difference."

3. Find a Mentor. Take the initiative and find a mentor. Your mentor should be someone who can help motivate and guide you in building your leadership skills. This can be accomplished through a formal mentor program or informally through relationships you build in the profession or in the community.

A mentor offers experience and the methods, skills, and work habits which he or she has found successful. Skills such as running a meeting or understanding the intricacies of managing a delegation or networking are possible areas where you might gain valuable insight from a mentor. The object is to find someone who is in a leadership role and model those successful behaviors.

You may have many mentors throughout your professional career. For example, the person you look to as a role model for producing quality legal work may be different from the person you look to for leadership guidance. Tenn explains that he has had several mentors who collectively have "inspired [him] to serve the profession, to develop as an attorney, and to make a difference."

A mentor is a guide. A mentor is a resource. But remember, you are ultimately responsible for your professional development.

4. Be Yourself. Only when you are true to who you are do you come across as confident and trustworthy – a leader. While you may be guided by and learn from a mentor, you do not want to imitate your mentor’s leadership style. Find your strong points and develop and build upon your unique leadership strengths. Hone the skills that work for you. Be authentic. History shows that leadership can be performed with differing styles and that no one style is synonymous with being a good or an effective leader.

5. Set Goals and Follow Through. As a leader, you need to know your objectives and have a plan to achieve them. Without a vision, you have no direction. "Rather than genius, leadership is based upon common sense and the ability to formulate an action strategy that appeals to many and may be carried on by a few," comments Tenn. Seek out feedback from colleagues and follow through on their suggestions. Your internal compass should honor high ethical standards in everything you do.

As a newer lawyer, begin to plan your success as a leader by utilizing these five tips. Take on a leadership role, develop your leadership skills, and find your leadership style. Remember, it is never too late to start, so why not start now?

Jennifer L. Parent is a director at McLane, Graf, Raulerson and Middleton in Manchester. She is a member of the NH Bar Association’s New Lawyers’ Committee.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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