Leadership, Persuasion, Terminology

The problem with the term “leadership.”

By Leah Teague & Stephen Rispoli

Why are people resistant to leadership training and development? It seems that law faculty, staff, and students are all reluctant to participate in anything labeled “leadership.” Moreover, it seems that everyone is resistant to leadership. But why is that the case?

Personally, we believe it’s because people don’t really know what leadership means. It’s a buzzword that has been over-used and associated with CEOs. It is thus unsurprising that many people first hear the word and think that it means anyone using it is talking about training CEOs on how to manage people. And, to further complicate matters, they may not be wrong. The challenge is explaining that leadership means so much more than that.

Leadership is a frame of mind, not a position. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what position the person with a leadership mindset holds. The key is that the person with a leadership mindset is thinking about how she will be most effective in whatever role she plays in the life of an individual, an organization or the community. Isn’t that what lawyers do? Or at least, isn’t that what lawyers should aspire to do?

Every aspect of what lawyers are called upon to do in the representation of their clients is practiced leadership. By advising, advocating and influencing others, lawyers can address an identified need and, hopefully, accomplish a greater good. Utilizing the skills, talents and resources of lawyers can have a tremendous impact on society.

Serving in positions that require legal training, as well as serving in a wide array of other leadership roles, lawyers influence society.

Leah Teague & Stephen Rispoli

Serving in positions that require legal training, as well as serving in a wide array of other leadership roles, lawyers influence society. Lawyers have contributed to pivotal historical events including the founding our nation, the progressive era, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement. As heads of nations, universities, foundations, companies, legislative committees and public offices, lawyers have shaped our society and culture.

Today, lawyers advocate for important causes, counsel businesses and serve non-profits. Their involvement, through various roles and responsibilities, advance these causes and enhance these enterprises. Through legal education, lawyers learn strategy, persuasion, and ultimately how to command the room.

So, what do we call this? Why use the term “leadership” instead of something else? The issue, as we see it, is that other terms don’t fit. “Advocacy” doesn’t really work because that term is tied, in the legal profession anyway, to the courtroom. “Team building” is likely too constrained to working on inter-personal dynamics, not what should we be doing and how do I fit in (and that term is just as likely to cause people to hesitate about learning through doing it). “Social change” doesn’t capture personal growth associated with leadership of self. “Professional development” is getting closer but makes it seem as if the exercise is all about the person doing the learning to become better and does not include the “why” of leadership and its importance to society. “Social entrepreneurship” is too focused upon developing unique business models to address issues. Even if other terms are close, they are likely just as ambiguous and require just as much explanation. “Leadership,” though, checks a lot of boxes. Leading by example, leading through advice and counsel, leading a team, leading an organization, leading in the community, and leadership of self. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best descriptor we’ve come up with. What about you? What term do you use?

-LT and SLR

Academia, Leadership, Persuasion

What is Leadership

By Stephen Rispoli

Lawyers have a responsibility to seek opportunities to make a positive difference in their communities. This can be done through pro bono work, serving on the board of a governmental or non-profit organization, simply volunteering time or resources in the community, or persuading their law firms or companies to fight for justice and equality for all. Leadership is the act of getting involved and effecting change – regardless of your title or position. These things are possible because lawyers have a special set of skills.


Leadership is the act of getting involved and effecting change – regardless of your title or position. These things are possible because lawyers have a special set of skills.

Stephen Rispoli

But how do you conceptualize leadership or go about doing it? To me, leadership is simply advocacy in another context. Advocacy is traditionally thought of as a skill to be utilized in the courtroom or the boardroom for your client. It is the art of persuading others that your client’s position is the correct one. Leadership is no different, except that it may be your position for which you are advocating.

There is another important difference between courtroom or boardroom advocacy and leadership advocacy. In the courtroom and the boardroom, there are a lot of rules relating to the proper method of advocacy and their boundaries: the rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and ethics rules, to name a few. However, there are not rules about how you convince others to make change within your organization. There is no guidebook to convincing your fellow partners, over whom you have no authority to tell them to do something, or your superiors in an organization. Instead, you must convince them that the course of action you are proposing is the correct one. Rather than following the rules of procedure to determine the best path forward, you must use emotional intelligence and tailor your approach to each situation and each person differently. Such conversations and actions take nuance and understanding of not only the person but also the organization in which you are operating. It is a complex and difficult undertaking.

The good news is that leadership studies have been around for quite some time and can be applied to the special role that lawyers play. There are even several excellent books specific to lawyers that are already out. To get your library started, here are several books that address the topic of leadership for lawyers:

  1. Deborah Rhode, Lawyers as Leaders, 2016
  2. Deborah Rhode, Leadership for Lawyers, 2018
  3. Robert Cullen, The Leading Lawyer: A Guide to Practicing Law and Leadership, 2010
  4. Paula Monopoli and Susan McCarty, Law and Leadership: Integrating Leadership Studies into the Law School Curriculum, 2017 (compilation of articles on the subject of teaching leadership in law schools)

To elaborate on the themes of our first post, we created this blog to jot down our thoughts on leadership, change-making, advocacy, and how to do it. In this blog, we’ll cover specific topics of leadership (such as choosing the right leadership style to deal with specific situations), our thoughts on particular topics, book reviews, upcoming leadership events, and posting scholarly articles from which leadership lessons can be learned.

-SLR

Leadership

Why Leadership Development for Lawyers?

By Leah Teague & Stephen Rispoli 

As the co-founders of the Baylor Leadership Development Program and early adopters of the leadership movement in legal education, we established this blog to address several questions:

(1) What do we mean by leadership development? 

(2) Why are these efforts important and relevant to individuals – law students, lawyers, and law schools? 

(3) As guardians of the rule of law and defenders of our democracy, how can these efforts benefit our profession and our country? 

(4) What does leadership development look like for lawyers and how is it different from leadership development for other professions?  

All of us who have started a leadership development program or class (as well as those who attempted to do so) are commonly faced with questions and preconceived notions such as: Aren’t leaders born not made? Why should law schools devote attention to leadership when so few lawyers will serve as a managing partner of their firm? How is a leadership course in law school different from the leadership program or course from their high school or college days?

These are all important and difficult questions. We will address these questions (and more) in this blog. For those who have leadership programs or classes, we hope you will share your challenges faced and wisdom gained. We hope all will join in the conversation. Just as we know civil discourse results in better outcomes, we know that engaging in robust discussions around these questions can lead to more effective conversations and programming in law schools, bar associations and legal offices throughout the nation.

-LT & SLR