Every year, the Army's JAG Corps gathers its senior leaders for a conference to reconnect, share updates on the law and their practice, and to reaffirm their alignment with The Judge Advocate General's goals and vision. This event is traditionally held at the Army's JAG School in Charlottesville, VA, and that setting -- away from the soldiers and installations they are responsible for -- offers a chance for these leaders to really focus on the work of honing their legal knowledge and leadership acumen. [Fun fact: the Army's JAG School is the only federal education program that offers an ABA-accredited LL.M. program!] This annual gathering also, traditionally, includes an opportunity for teaching alumni to return to the school and reconnect with friends and colleagues. I made the trip this week -- leaving the house at 4:40 am -- and it was absolutely worth it. Not only did I get to see some old friends, I got to sit down and talk leadership with one of them.
Lieutenant Colonel Shaun Lister is the current Chair of the Criminal Law Department and several years ago we worked together at the JAG School in that same department when I was the Vice Chair and he was an Assistant Professor. Shaun has always been interested in being good leader, but his thoughtfulness about the practice of leadership has deepened, and our conversation (which kept me lingering hours longer than I'd planned) offered several nuggets he's allowing me to share. While they're fresh, I'm going to write a little more frequently so I can keep offering bite-sized thoughts instead of ginning up a single summary of our conversation.
For today, my first takeaway is the importance of introspection. I've talked a few times (here and here) about working on one of my leadership blind spots and how necessary it can be to get an outside perspective on how you're doing. Shaun shared with me a similar experience of discovering a practice that was holding him back, and it's one that many leaders share -- especially lawyers. Micromanagement. As lawyers, we spend so much time getting 'smarter,' learning how to do everything that goes into practicing law, that we often forget that we're surrounded by smart people who also know how to get things done. And our penchant for editing our own work and developing our own methods and trial practices means we start to see our way as the best way, not just the way we prefer to do/write/express/organize things.
While consistency in a firm's practice has value, it's important to recognize that there can be a band of performance on any given spectrum of actions that will satisfy the needs of a particular task. Giving your team the freedom to do more things their way and to take on more tasks themselves shows trust, gives them greater ownership over the process and the outcome, and (with practice) can reduce the mental load you are carrying.
I'll share some more of my conversation with Shaun, but today, I hope you will be a little curious about your leadership. Reevaluate where your focus is and how you operate as a leader. Are you giving everyone on your team the quality of leadership they deserve? And are you giving them the freedom to use their 'smarts' to get the job done? If you're not sure, ask. Get a peer, mentor, or coach involved. Ask your team. And if you're not sure where to start, give me a call.