One of the characteristics of successful and effective leadership that we attempt to instill in our law students is the need to be self-aware. Effective leadership requires intentional reflection and introspection.
As we are in the midst of the holiday season, I thought I’d share a great collection of gratefulness articles. Gratefulness takes reflection, and reflection spurs gratefulness:
Leading by example. We often use that phrase, but what does it mean? In my experience, we most often think if we model practices and traits we want to see in our students or young lawyers we mentor, then we can lead them to adopt those behaviors. When it comes to professionalism, civility, ethics, and hard work, most of us do a good job of leading by example. But what about when it comes to mental health?
In February 2016, The Journal of Addiction Medicine published a study conducted by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. The study reported that 21 percent of licensed, employed attorneys qualified as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggled with some level of depression, and 19 percent demonstrated symptoms of anxiety. The study found that younger attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibited the highest incidence of these problems.
In a 2018 Legal Trends Report prepared by Clio, 75% of lawyers reported frequently or always working outside of regular business hours, and that 39% of lawyers say these long hours negatively affected their personal lives. Additionally, according to the Dave Nee Foundation, new law school students exhibit rates of depression around 8-9%—but after three years in law school, 40% of students are depressed.
During the past 18 months plus, we have all had a lot of time with our thoughts, both positive and negative. The isolation, anxiety, confusion, and fear has left us all mentally exhausted. It has also helped us to refocus on our own physical and mental health and the importance of self-care. As we have been gradually going back to “normal,” are we leading by example? Taking time for our mental health is just as important as our physical health. And our mental health does actually impact physical health. According to one article, “mental health plays a huge role in your general well-being. Being in a good mental state can keep you healthy and help prevent serious health conditions. A study found that positive psychological well-being can reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, poor mental health can lead to poor physical health or harmful behaviors.” Depression has been linked to diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. Mental health conditions also contribute to sleep disorders like insomnia.
As leaders, we have to model good habits of self-care and prioritizing mental health. If we are open to talking about mental health, it will open up a dialogue for those who look to us as examples. I have found that when I open up about my own challenges, others feel more comfortable about taking care of themselves and seeking the care they need. However, if you are not comfortable sharing your own experiences, there are still ways to meaningfully connect and engage. Here are some examples that I have used and received positive feedback from students:
On Mondays, start class with a “Motivation Monday” power point slide. I find a funny meme or inspirational quote to get the week started. It is a fun way to not only show a human side but to maybe brighten someone’s day that isn’t going so well.
At final exam time, share prayers, scriptures, inspirational quotes, or words of encouragement to let students know they are not alone, and we understand the stress.
Communicate with students that you are a safe person to turn to if they need to talk about mental health challenges and get help finding resources.
If we want to be good leaders today, and cultivate good leaders for tomorrow, let’s prioritize mental health and end the stigma.
How can we cultivate wellness in those who lead and those who are led?
Lead from our strengths and draw on the strengths of those being led.
The late Dr. Christopher Peterson was a psychologist who offered this prescription for wellness in his Positive Psychology Primer: “if you want to be healthier, you should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and not smoke. You should have good relationships with other people and pursue activities that are fulfilling.”
Most of us think we understand diet, exercise and smoking – even if we don’t always follow the behaviors they reference. But how about having good relationships and finding fulfillment? They are general principles with less clear content.
One way I have found helpful with my students is to help them understand their unique set of character strengths, which can help them pursue activities that are fulfilling. Then they can use their awareness of their own strengths to perceive those strengths in those with whom they might interact – helping them have better relationships with those they lead. But how do they learn what those strengths might be?
Many law teachers are aware of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, used by psychologists to classify and treat various kinds of behavioral health concerns. What is less well known is that the same Dr. Christopher Peterson directed and co-authored with Dr. Martin Seligman a treatise they referred to as a “manual of the sanities.” Their joint work, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, examined 24 strengths of character which have been valued across time and cultures. They are:
But what makes their work most helpful is a questionnaire which allows anyone, without charge from the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character, to see what particular pattern of such strengths they have. The ones we rely on most often feel so natural to us that we may be unaware of them, like using a dominant hand, unless asked to reflect on what it would be like if we could not use them for an extended period. But people who become aware of their strengths, and use them appropriately in a chosen role, can lead more fulfilling lives. That is one way to meet part of what Dr. Peterson recommended for wellness.
As for good relationships with other people, when we become aware of our own strengths, we can also begin to notice strengths in other people. Mark Twain once wrote, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Often, however, for want of something better, our compliments may oftenfocus on something obvious, like how we dress. But what if instead we tell them what good they have done and how they have done it?
Part of the challenge is that we may not have a large enough vocabulary to do so. But if you notice and comment on other people’s perseverance or bravery or kindness, and say how you saw it expressed, you are honoring some of their 24 character strengths. A bonus is that because their top strengths are aspects of who they are, they may also take them for granted and not be as aware of them as we might be as observers of their behavior. When, however, they find them pointed out, they feel appreciated – perhaps even if a little bashful, as accepting a compliment is sometimes harder than giving one. Doing so, however, honors the giver as well as the recipient.
Leadership, however, extends beyond compliments. When we notice and call upon the strengths of those we lead for action, we can combine theirs with ours to enhance chances for success in a chosen task, just as a team can do more on the playing field than an individual can alone.
Looking for opportunities to compliment – and complement – character strengths in other people also provides us opportunities to honor others’ diversity. We often rely on visible signs of our differences rather than also looking for those invisible distinctions that can add additional value. Spotting and calling on their strengths offer us a means to that end which can further deepen our relationships. We, as law professors, have a role to play in teaching students how to be well themselves and lift up others. Understanding and appreciating our strengths and that of others can be helpful ways for aspiring leaders – as well as those of us who teach them – to have good relationships with other people and pursue leadership activities they find fulfilling – with greater wellness for all involved.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Some practice a Thanksgiving tradition in which they share something (or someone) for which they are thankful. As we focus on well-being and celebrate Thanksgiving next week, it seems fitting to focus on the benefits of practicing gratitude. Rather than relegating thankfulness or gratitude to once a year, studies show tremendous benefits to practicing gratitude as part of our daily routine.
A gratitude practice may be especially beneficial for students experiencing the stress of law school. Students naively believe that life will magically be better/easier after law school, but we know such is not the case. The practice of law, and life, can grind up and wear down the best of us. Gratitude positively effects the well-being of both the person showing appreciation and the receiver.
This week before Thanksgiving is a perfect time to encourage our students, as well as our colleagues and loved ones, to practice gratitude regularly and offer suggestions on incorporating a gratitude practice.
Gratitude helps you put things in perspective. Specifically, it helps prevent your view of your situation from becoming overly negative. We have a tendency to see our situations in reference to the predominate emotional evaluation we experience. In other words, if our day seems more than 50% negative, we experience our entire day as negative. Likewise, if our day seems more than 50% positive, we have a better chance of experiencing our day as positive. Since everyday has both positive and negative aspects, it all depends on what you focus on. A day with one significant negative event can taint the entire day if that negative event is the focus on our attention.
From the repository of the “Pendleton Judicial Training Updates,” Retired Judge Pendleton from Minnesota reminds lawyers that we have an easy choice each day “between two possible daily mindsets:
1. A mindset where you are grateful for the opportunity to excel in a challenging field and happy just to be involved, or
2. A mindset of struggling and griping about every inch of gained ground, never satisfied with the outcome.
When you read those two choices, no one would consciously pick the second one. Yet when the bell rings and your day begins, many attorneys (and judges) allow themselves to revert to an adversarial mental state (choice #2). Besides the negative affect on the quality of your own life, a non-grateful daily attitude also has a profound impact on how you are perceived by others, including your friends and colleagues. Of course, most of you already know which local attorneys and judges fall into that second category. Don’t be one of them.”
Gratitude exercises allow for reflection on influential people and the milestones they made possible. A gratitude wall will enable students to show their recognition in a public way. The instructions for this exercise are simple. Have the students take 1-3 post-it notes and write down one thing they are grateful for on the note. Then have the students or lawyers place the post-it notes on the wall of the classroom or meeting room or a large poster board.
A variation on the gratitude wall is gratitude cards. For these, pass out note cards and have them write down one thing they are grateful for on each card and review these cards every day. In a following class or meeting, discuss how this exercise impacted their daily lives.
“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” -G.K. Chesterton
The following post is a book review written by Samantha Chaiken, a student in our summer 2021 Leadership Class. As I reflect on Samantha’s thoughts below, two points seem particularly relevant to our discussion this month on the importance of wellness:
The author states that the training of our law students becomes their baseline to which they will revert when under pressure. What if we do not address the need to prioritize wellness? Shouldn’t we model and teach them how to do so? We know our students will have challenging times ahead. Let’s help them develop healthy coping mechanisms to be better prepared to weather their storms in law school and beyond.
A favorite lesson from the book was about the danger of ‘comparison left unchecked.’ Comparison, which is built into the fabric of law school, is often necessary and constructive; yet an environment of constant comparison can be taken too far and lead to unhealthy feelings about one’s self-worth or abilities and can rob us of our joy. Leadership development programming can help our students learn to cope as we emphasize developing grit, resilience, and a growth mindset to encourage students to view feedback constructively and failure as a normal aspect of their progression.
I hope you enjoy this book review as much as I did. – Leah
Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf, is exactly as advertised. The book truly takes you through, chapter by chapter, how to fall in love with the process of becoming great. This leadership book is a quick read with each chapter providing a powerful lesson.
The book follows the story of John, a boy who dreamed of becoming a samurai warrior, specifically, an archer. John traveled to Japan where he enrolled as an apprentice to a small community of samurais. It is there that John meets a friendly old sensei by the name of Akira. Much like the Karate Kid, rather than “wax on, wax off,” Akira taught John how to “chop wood, carry water.” In each chapter of the book, Akira teaches John an important lesson that brings John closer to his goal of becoming a samurai warrior.
Although there are many, one of my favorite lessons from the book is that “comparison is the thief of all joy.” One day as John was struggling, he was jealous of how easy things seemingly came to his peers while he had to work so hard and still not do as well as his peers. Akira pulled John aside and told him that he must focus on his journey and his alone. Otherwise, he would run the risk of not only losing his joy, but also losing any chance of true success in the long run.
One of my favorite quotes was Akira telling John, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” This lesson truly resonated with me. As law students, we are constantly placed in positions of comparison. We are constantly comparing grades, class performance, titles, positions on Law Review or in student organizations, and in many other aspects of our law school experience. With so much comparison, we lose our joy. We forget our prior successes that led us to law school in the first place. We diminish our accomplishments while in law school because there is seemingly always another classmate who did better than us. We fail to put our experiences in perspective.
This same phenomenon happens to lawyers in the real world as well. Only the subject matter of the comparison changes. That is why it is so important to take a minute to reflect on your own personal journey and the progress YOU have made. Otherwise, comparison is going to steal all your joy.
The book also teaches that “under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” As I read through the chapter, I had to take a moment to be thankful that I attend Baylor Law. Though the training may be rigorous, and perhaps feels impossible at times, I know that under pressure I will be able to perform at an extremely high level.
I highly recommend this book – to law students, lawyers, or to anyone for that matter. This book will teach you, test you, and bring you to tears. Each lesson truly packs a punch. I had the opportunity to read this book during my time in Practice Court. I think it helped me to keep my journey in perspective. There were so many days when I would start reading and could not help but cry because the lesson was so applicable to what I was going through at the time.
If you are seeking to improve your leadership abilities, you must first look within yourself. This book will assist you along your journey of becoming great. However, even the book itself provides a warning that it is not enough to simply read the book and learn the principles, you must apply them in your everyday life no matter how challenging it may be.
It’s November, and the holidays are coming. For many, that means time spent with family and friends, tables loaded with sumptuous food, holiday decorations, and all the trappings of a Hallmark holiday. But that’s not how holidays are for everyone, including those who are grieving the loss of a loved one in the past year, those whose family relations are strained, those who are strained financially, among others. Multiple studies and surveys document the stress and anxiety brought on by the holidays, with one survey indicating that 88% of respondents considered the holidays the most stressful time of the year and Forbes reporting that one-third of Americans would rather skip the holidays.
As if the holidays are not stressful enough, many law students must cope with the pressure of studying for final exams and the exhaustion that follows. And practicing lawyers must rush to meet year-end deadlines and hope to have a chance to take some downtime. With the demands and fast pace of modern life, no one is immune from the challenges of creating the perfect holiday.
Our theme for the month of November is wellness. We should always be mindful of both our physical and our mental health throughout the year. No doubt, after the New Year, many of us will resolve to watch our diets, work out more, and develop better habits overall. But wellness is far more than getting enough sleep and cutting down on sweets. Now, during one of the most stressful times of the year, when unrealistic expectations, fatigue, and the demands on everyone’s time cause depression rates to spike, is a perfect time to be sensitive to our own mental and physical health.
As leaders and those who are training future leaders, we have an obligation to take care of ourselves and to model to those who we are training the importance of self-awareness and self-care. Our responsibility, however, goes beyond that. Our duty is to also be alert to the stress and anxiety our students or others we are training may be facing, recognizing that they may be unwilling or unable to acknowledge to themselves their struggles or may worry about the fallout of appearing weak.
Over the next few weeks, our blog posts will offer resources and suggestions for teaching and modeling wellness and self-care.
Feedback can feel threatening and intimidating to hear that your work did not meet expectations—especially if you do not agree with the feedback. Feedback, both positive and negative, however, help us become better lawyers and leaders. Lawyers need to know whether clients are satisfied, both for the current matter and for future relationships. Students need to know if their professors think the work is adequate; professors literally grade the papers. Young lawyers need to know if partners and judges find the work product acceptable; those individuals have substantial impact on the future of a career or a case. And finally, each of us needs to develop internal standards for quality written work, communication and professional development. Feedback helps lawyers develop a sense of where their strengths lie and where they can improve performance.
Below is a new feedback exercise we will be adding to the Teacher’s Manual for Chapter 10: Giving and Receiving Feedback of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership. In addition to the exercises, we will add suggestions for additional discussion topics, such as emotional intelligence, communication and relationship building, and tips for best practices in managing workloads and personal well-being.
FEEDBACK ROLE-PLAYING EXERCISES
Select two students from the class. Assign one to play the role of partner and the other the role of associate. Give each student instruction and background information for only their role. Give the class only the general description, not the background information for partner or associate. After the class observes the role-playing exercise, lead a discussion on how two participants could alter the conversation for a more productive approach to the scenario and brainstorm strategies for dealing with different feedback situations.
Scenario One: Feedback on Work Product
General scenario: Young associate has spent significant time working on a research assignment for a partner. The partner calls the associate into the office to discuss the memo received from the associate.
Partner Role to be shared only with student playing the partner:The client on this matter is an important client for the firm and the partner is a personal friend of the client. The partner knows that this matter could have dire consequences to this client’s future (could be financial, reputation, or even criminal implications). Partner finds the work to be unacceptable, believes the time that has elapsed was a wasted delay in moving the matter forward, and regrets giving the work to the associate. The student/partner should start the meeting by displaying anger for the associate’s unacceptable work. The student/partner should yell at the associate for doing terrible work and demand an explanation for why the work is subpar. This partner knows he/she has a reputation in the firm for being hard-nosed (i.e. expecting excellent, error-free work and not being a warm, caring and supportive mentor type.)
Associate Role to be shared only with student playing the associate: The student/associate is to act apprehensive about being called to meet with this particular partner because this partner has a reputation for being difficult to please. This partner also has a reputation for not being a warm, caring and supportive mentor-type partner. Knowing the partner’s lack of tolerance for subpar work, the associate tried to be diligent and address all anticipated issues; however, the associate has outside stressors (such as a partner or parent who is seriously ill or 3 small children at home) and is surviving on only 3 to 5 hours of sleep at night for the last several months. As a result, the associate feels overwhelmed and is having a difficult time completing all tasks to his/her satisfaction. The student/associate had all great annual evaluations in the past but has been more concerned about what this year’s evaluations might say. The student/associate should react as he/she is naturally inclined to do when overwhelmed and sleep deprived.
Scenario two: Update on Client Matter
General scenario:Associate requests a meeting with partner to discuss a phone call the associate received from a client of partner. This client was a first-time client for the firm. The partner does not have a history with this client and since it was a smaller matter, the partner turned the matter over to the associate and has not been directly involved with this matter after the initial meeting with the partner, associate, and client 6 months ago.
Partner Role to be shared only with student playing the partner:This client was referred to the partner by an influential industry leader whose opinion of the firm matters greatly. The partner was thrilled to get the referral but did not have the time to work on the matter. The partner also thought the associate’s lower hourly rate would be more appropriate for the matter. The partner assigned this matter to an associate who had handled a similar matter in the past. The partner received the report of hours worked and billed the client for all of the reported hours without talking to the associate. The partner has not checked on the associate or the client since the initial meeting. The student/partner should react strongly and negatively to the news the associate will share.
Associate Role to be shared only with student playing the associate: Associate needs to disclose to the partner the call from the client who is unhappy and feels the bill is excessive. The client complained that the hours billed are quite high and the descriptions of the work are vague. The associate did not see the final bill before it went out, and no one has told the associate there are any issues with how the time was submitted in the firm’s timekeeping software. Associate knows the partner assigned this matter to her/him because associate handled a similar matter in the past. This matter turned out to be much more complicated than anything associate has done in the past but associate did not seek advice or help from anyone. The associate has not updated the client about the matter in the last three months. The student/associate should disclose these facts to the partner as professionally as possible but then react defensively to anything that the partner says in response.
Below is a short book review written by Rikki Feezor, a law student in our latest leadership development class. With this month’s focus on feedback as a critical component of learning and growing in leadership, we invite you to read Rikki’s review of The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle. Coyle’s advice for maximizing one’s potential highlights the importance of Master Coaches who give constructive feedback and recipients being open to learning from feedback and failure with a mindset for growth.
The Talent Code tackles the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Are people born with better skills than others, or does everything come down to practice, practice, practice? This book takes a very scientific approach to determining how we as humans process information to learn skills. The overall theme is that learning is the most crucial part of life or, at the very minimum, one of the most crucial parts of life. We are taught all these subjects growing up, yet why are we never taught how to learn? By visiting “talent hotbeds,” small places around the world that produce statistically impossible numbers of great athletes, artists, and performers, author Dan Coyle discovers what lies behind excellence. The Talent Code mentions three foundational elements of mastering any skill – Deep Practice, Ignition, and Master Coaching.
Deep Practice emphasizes the importance of repeated failures in the learning process. Every time you fail and figure out where you fell short, a phenomenon occurs in your brain where cell linings are reinforced with a myelin coating that increases the speed at which your brain makes connections and improvements in the skill. Each failure makes your next attempt slightly more accurate. Deep Practice is the act of maximizing myelin production by practicing the part of any skill that cause the most failures, which in turn maximizes productivity in skill development.
My favorite part of the book is when researchers monitor how a child learns to play the clarinet. One would think that the process of learning is a straight line moving through time; however, during these practice sessions, something very different happens. The student begins to learn at an incredibly accelerated pace, then comes to a halt and makes almost no progress for the remaining amount of time. At this moment, they discover that learning comes not in a linear fashion but instead through major jumps when the proper signaling is happening in the brain. Deep Practice is implemented at the points where learning becomes stagnant, because the source of failure is identified and reconciled with slow and steady improvements in practice methods.
Ignition is the idea that passion and long-term vision is ignited at specific moments in one’s life. The idea is that when you’re inspired to develop a skill from a deep and meaningful event, as opposed to a random or spontaneous thought, the long-term aspiration develops and ignites the stamina needed to push through the failures during Deep Practice.
Master Coaching deeply intertwines with Ignition. When teachers instruct in ways that their specific student responds to, this can engage the ignition (or passion) that accelerates the Deep Practice. In addition, Master Coaches only praise effort and slow progress, not innate talent or intelligence. Praise is only given when it is earned.
There are some chapters on how Master Coaching works, but the Master Coaching aspect that I found to be most related to leadership is the changing of coaching style. Too often, we try to make a “one-size-fits-all” mold, and then reject the ones that don’t fit into the mold. However, the reality of the situation is that different people respond best to different teaching styles. One of the characters in the book is a music teacher. He is straightforward and loud with a student, then just turns around and provides calm, gentle instructions to another student. Why would one student get yelled at while the other gently encouraged? Because that is what that individual child needed in order to develop best. This aspect transfers into leadership in precisely the same way. There will be times that to help someone develop to the best of their abilities. You will have to adapt and determine if they need a pep talk or to be yelled at. What ignites this specific student to continue to learn and improve? Great leadership involves being able to adapt to the people whom you are leading.
Ignition, followed by Deep Practice, which are both facilitated by Master Coaching results in extreme talent. These building blocks of learning were observed by Coyle in a variety of circumstances, from soccer practice in the ever-successful Brazilian soccer community, to South Korean women’s tennis programs, to a formerly failing but now highly accredited U.S. high school’s SAT prep program. No matter the subject or skill, when these foundations are present in the learning process, talent flourishes.
In the leadership context, this book can be used as a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach. The Master Coaching element I found most useful because it teaches you what to look for when looking for mentors and how you should go about mentoring. In other words, it teaches you not only how to be a good leader but also how to be a good follower.
Students say that they love feedback. But that’s not completely true. They love feedback that they believe in.
Put yourself in the student’s shoes. They want to hear what they’ve done right (or wrong), and they want to do better. When the feedback begins, though, what they hear is often criticism. As justified as the criticism might be, it’s hard for anyone to hear that the effort they expended was not really very good. Instead of feeling that they are closer to being a lawyer, the student feels they are getting further away. The challenge is to present the feedback so that it is received with appreciation and so that stimulates the mind – not so that is depresses the spirit.
One effective way to motivate is to delay your feedback. Let the student talk first. Ask: What did you find challenging? Did you think you did some part poorly? Where would you like to improve? What was the hardest part of the work?
Those answers and the self-reflection they require opens the discussion with the student’s own concerns, instead of the instructor’s critique . The instructor’s critique comes from a person of experience and expertise. That can be intimidating. Let the student tell you what they need help with first. When they get the help they wanted, they are ready to talk about improvements they didn’t know were necessary, and improvements they never considered.
I recently talked to a student who had turned in a required assignment – the first draft of an appellate brief. In my opinion, this student was just awful at proofreading. Obvious spelling mistakes, repeated words, odd spacing and poor grammar plagued his brief – so much so that I had a hard time reading the thing. When he came to my office, I asked him, “What was the one thing you think you could do better?” He spoke up quickly, “I have a hard time with the details.” That led to a discussion about a trait he and I have in common – we love to have someone else check our work. That wasn’t possible with this assignment, so he needed some different tools. Grammarly and Brief Catch are both available to all students at Baylor Law, and we walked through using those as an electronic proofreader and style coach. Software is not perfect, but it was just the tool he needed. I wonder if we would have ended up sharing a common trait and worked on a good solution if I had started our conversation with “You know, I don’t think you did any editing and proofreading on this brief,” or “You need to spend some time editing and proofreading before you turn in the next draft.” Either would have been truthful and constructive. But, had a professor told me that, I would have recoiled a bit, and maybe wondered if I was cut out for this profession.
There is a time to be brutally honest. There are more times when we should seek to inspire.
If you’re not already aware of Dean Patty Roberts’s fantastic Podcast, EdUp Legal, on the EdUp Experience Network, we hope you’ll add this Podcast to your listening queue. About once a week, Dean Roberts explores the opinions and prognostications of leaders in legal education regarding the future of legal training and considers the value proposition of law school.
Dean Roberts recently interviewed Professor Leah Teague. The duo, who share a commitment to preparing law students for their important roles as leaders in society, discussed Professor Teague’s work in fostering a national movement of intentional leadership development in law schools.