I have written several times about my participation in the SmithBucklin Leadership Institute last year. The class of 2014 will have a reunion later this week, and yes, I have homework.
One of our assignments is to reflect on our last year’s final homework assignment — how are we going to pay forward what we had learned — and to provide an update on how we’re doing with that. No generalities are allowed. We need to dig deep, and provide details.
As I flipped open to last year’s homework, I realized that I was in a different place. As in jobs. At the time of our last session, my firm had announced, yet had not closed, a merger with an AmLaw 200 firm, and my answers were all based on that scenario.
The three learning elements that I was committed to pay forward were:
- Leading Change: By integrating my then-firm’s attorneys into the new firm’s culture.
- Develop Meaningful and Enduring Relationships: To create opportunities for attorneys from both firms to join as a team (eg, speak on a panel, write a paper, RFP response, client team) with the expressed objective of developing meaningful relationships that would endure.
- Crucial Conversations: To integrate myself into the new firm as an advocate on behalf of the legacy firm, but also as a leader within the new firm and my team.
I then spelled out the specific ways I would do each.
Yikes. I switched firms in February. How am I going to reflect on something I am not doing? And then I realized that I am doing these things … just somewhere else.
The lessons learned and the principles of this leadership program are deeply ingrained in who I am today. How could a six month program do that? How could this program create such a shift in who I am? How do I express my gratitude to LMA for sending me to the Leadership Institute? To Henry Givray and Dale West for facilitating our sessions? To all my fellows with whom I have developed deep bonds and personal relationships?
What is clear is that leadership isn’t about your title or position, but about what you do. I am a leader in most areas of my life: In my home as a parent. In my extended family and amongst my siblings and our kids. In my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. In my fellowship due to my longevity and the service commitments I take. In my HOA as the board president. In my professional association as a committee co-chair, and as a long-term member. And in my new position as the head of my department, as a member of the executive team, and as a trusted adviser to the attorneys.
In reflecting on this past year I cannot imagine doing what I do today without the experience of, and lessons learned from, the Leadership Institute. While some of us are born with the characteristics that make a leader, without training, coaching, and learning, how can those attributes ever be realized? And for those of us not naturally inclined with leadership skills, we still need leadership skills and principles, because we can all find places in our lives where people look to us for leadership.
My goal at the onset of the program was to move from being an intuitive leader, wondering how I got where I was, to an intentional leader knowing the exact steps I took and why. I wanted to make decisions with clarity and purpose. I wanted to be secure in my role and the positions I take. I wanted to take a measured approach to decision making. I wanted to be a trusted adviser, and not doubt the advice I gave.
I feel that I have accomplished all of these goals in many ways (although I still need to work on impulse control where that reply button is concerned).
It’s good to know that a high degree of self-awareness and a lifelong commitment to learning and continuous improvement are amongst the key characteristics of a leader. As we say in my fellowship, it’s about progress not perfection, and I am not done yet.
See you in Chicago this weekend.