Last Friday, I was honoured to be invited to speak at a legal conference here in Houston -- a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar designed for women lawyers (in order to keep our licenses, we lawyers have to attend at least 15 hours of CLE every year, including 3 hours of ethics). Even though I was only slated to speak for an hour, I stayed for the entire day -- figured I might as well get a few of my own credit hours in while I could!
I have to say, in the 20 years since I've been a licensed attorney, this was by far the most awesome CLE course I'd ever attended. The speakers ranged from folks who are professional coaches and mentors, to civil rights lawyers, to attorneys who have argued in front of the United States Supreme Court, to even one former Chief Justice of the Texas Court of Appeals. In other words, this was an impressive group of women. It therefore had every possibility of being an incredibly stuffy, intimidating event. In fact, it was exactly the opposite.
I was scheduled to speak right before lunch, and my talk was about a re-definition of leadership. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous: I've long thought that my views on leadership sort of fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Most people, when polled (through my thoroughly unscientific medium, Facebook), said that leadership qualities included confidence, and integrity and wisdom. I don't disagree, but I would posit that these are the minimum qualities that everyone with a job should possess, not just leaders; indeed, we lawyers have codes of conduct that establish rules of integrity and wisdom to which we're required to adhere just to keep our licenses, much less our jobs. I would argue that, in fact, leadership actually requires more. And the "more," in my book, is:
1) Knowing your strengths in a concrete, claimable way, and being willing to rely on the strengths of others, including the strengths of the people reporting to you;
2) Leading with kindness (without being a doormat) -- including, of course, complimenting in public and criticizing in private; but also allowing those who report to you to harness their own strengths, while championing their good works to higher-ups in your organization; and
3) Honing creativity, which might include having an off-hours creative hobby, but most definitely includes a journaling practice (which I've outlined here).
My book, arguably, is a bit offbeat.
I needn't have worried: I was grateful to find my words well-received. Even more, however, I was thrilled that everyone in that room already seemed to already embody these characteristics. To a person, they were warm and so generous when they shared their thoughts with me, and I feel like I made many friends in that room.
It reminded me that this was the reason that I keep my law license active: not just as a safety net, or simply because I worked so hard to get my law license in the first place. I keep my license active because I believe in the legal profession, all negative stereotypes notwithstanding. As with every profession, there are bad eggs, of course; but this conference reminded me that for the most part, as an attorney I've had the privilege of working with some of the most honourable people I've ever known.
So thanks much to the organizers of this conference for having me. And as for everyone else, go on: go out there and hug a lawyer today.