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Leadership Lessons from A Christmas Carol

Guest Post: Ed Nelson, Baylor Law’s Director of Marketing & Communications


Charles Dicken’s 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, more commonly known simply as A Christmas Carol, is a perennial favorite of millions of people during the Christmas season. The story centers around Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish and unlikable miser who hates Christmas. The story has been retold, reworked, and recreated dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of times in plays, movies, and books.

As we approach the Christmas holiday in 2020… I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the valuable leadership lessons we can glean from this classic story:

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Past

We must constantly remind our students that good leaders learn from their mistakes and strive to not repeat them in the future. Babies don’t learn to walk without falling down, repeatedly. All of us, no matter how accomplished we are in our profession, have had to face failures, some of our own doing, some thrust upon us. Some of the best – and most memorable lessons we learn come from these mistakes and failures. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was forced to face the mistakes he had made and the opportunities that he had missed. In the end, he recognized that he could never change the past, but he had the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and ensure they were not repeated in the future. We must teach our law students to do the same. The past can’t be changed. But as Professor Walt Shelton shared recently, each of us should, on a regular basis, openly and honestly analyze our successes and failures and try to learn the lessons that each have to offer.

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Future

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that as humans, we have incredibly limited ability to predict future events. If we had been asked two or three years ago to predict how many of the nation’s law schools would be teaching their curriculum online during a pandemic – none of us would even come close to a correct prediction. None of us know with certainty what the future holds. The only thing certain about the future is uncertainty. With the rapidly changing circumstances, technology, and social mores in the world today, it is more important than ever that we train our law students to be proactive, flexible, and adaptable. Dean Teague has emphasized in recent posts the importance of training our students with grit and resilience. These are traits that can be learned – and implemented.  

Is your law school promoting a culture of empowerment and change? Are you focused on the future or stuck in the past doing the same things, in the same way, and surprised with the same outcomes? Scrooge didn’t just learn from his visit to Christmas Future, he was willing to adapt and make much-needed changes. If we take this even further, we can see that when he changed, he became someone who supported, encouraged, and empowered others to succeed. A wonderful change indeed!

Leadership Lessons from Christmas Present

As Scrooge learned, changing the future requires making difficult – and sometimes painful – changes in the present.

According to the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the legal profession is “buckling under the weight of stress, anxiety, substance use, and depression.” For many, the holiday season, rather than being a time of relaxation and reflection, simply amplifies already high stress levels. As if the legal profession wasn’t stressful enough, the holidays can increase pressures on your time and resources — shopping, baking, decorating, and entertaining, just to name a few. The spread of COVID-19 is adding to an already stressful time – and many of us are worried about how to celebrate the season without endangering ourselves or others. It can all be too much!

This Christmas season, carve some time out of your schedule to relax and recharge. Turn off your work email for a few days (or weeks!) and spend time some doing something you truly enjoy. Read a good book, focus on a favorite hobby, take some good long walks, or simply binge-watch a few sappy Hallmark Christmas Specials. 2021 will be here before we know it – and the demands on your time will resume. Model good mental health and wellness for your students this Holiday season.

From all of us here at Baylor Law’s Training Lawyers as Leaders Blog…  we wish you a wonderful holiday season.

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The Practice of Effective Leadership

Guest Post: Walt Shelton

This post is a guest post by Professor Walt Shelton. The Daily Practice of Life by Professor Shelton is a wonderful book and would make an excellent stocking stuffer if you still need to pick up some Christmas gifts! Here’s a link to buy it now on Amazon.



The Practice of Effective Leadership

What is the most important characteristic of an authentic and influential leader?  Character.  A stellar group leader is first and foremost a very good person, a role model in demeanor and behavior.  An effective leader emanates the “feel” of being part of the group rather than “above it.”   There is never any hint of attitudinal superiority.  Rather, respected leaders talk with instead of to their group in tone and substance.  Additionally, they work hands on like everyone else, as part of the group instead of its boss in group-related projects and activities.

Are Attorneys “Leaders”?

The Preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct declares that our “incentive [is] to attain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct ” (Section 9, emphasis added). As members of our time-honored profession, we must aspire to this objective in our practice and representation of clients, and more so, in how we live and balance our priorities in life. Lawyer jokes aside, we should accept leadership roles with humility and assume a servant-oriented leadership mentality. We should give no hint of arrogance or partiality in our speech or conduct. Rather, drawing from Judeo-Christian and other authentic faith-related traditions, true leadership includes exercising and modeling compassion, kindness, and gentleness, as well as pursuing justice in our work and daily affairs.

Recognize That You Are a Role Model

In legal and all other contexts, people acknowledge and actually follow leaders that they respect.  Like it or not, life-quality and implementing excellent leadership skills are intertwined. Similar to children with parents, people watch how leaders live, what they do and live out, more than hearing what leaders say. Group members pay special attention to how their leaders react to difficult and challenging circumstances. Thus, qualitative daily living lays the foundation (or not) for people actually wanting to listen to you (actions and words) and embrace your position as a leader.

Owning Our Mistakes and Resolving to Improve

No one is perfect. Leaders are often in the spotlight and scrutinized in their behavior and decision-making.  Whatever the context, including legal representation, actively serving as a leader, or simply how we live each moment, when we err, we must own it. Subsequent to falling down, we apologize, implement a plan to personally remedy any harm, and resolve to improve. No one knows everything, including persons in leadership positions and recognized for their expertise. Anyone with an omniscient presence is not qualified to lead. “I don’t know” are among the smartest and most honest words leaders can ever speak. Following not knowing with diligently finding out and acting constructively upon it strengthens our leadership position and future performance.

Periodic “Self Auditing” is Important

Learning from experiences and reflecting upon them is an important yet often underrated mechanism toward more qualitative living and leadership. Taking the time for periodic, solitary, and unrushed hard looks at how we are living and leading others relative to our intentions and priorities is an excellent and necessary practice. True self-reflection results in progressive improvement. For example, we can pick a time of the year, such as the beginning of fall or a new year, as a season for this formative type of introspection to consider our priorities and goals in life, including leadership objectives. Honestly examining how we lived and performed over the past year, or some shorter period of time, relative to what we really care about in life and leadership provides a wealth of information. It allows us to: (1) understand and, as necessary, re-assess our goals; and (2) establish new habits toward the hard work of changing for the better. We can further enhance our effectiveness when we couple it with daily routines to focus and remind ourselves of our priorities as people, attorneys, and leaders: people who we would respect and want to follow.


Walt Shelton is one of the most well-read faith and life-quality columnists in Texas.  He has been a part time Professor at Baylor Law for 30 years and has led faith and life-quality related discussion groups for almost 40 years.  Professor Shelton also frequently speaks to other groups on ethical, legal, faith, and life related subjects.  His book, The Daily Practice of Life: Practical Reflections Toward Meaningful Living (CrossLink Publishing 2020) is available at or through most book stores.  Professor Shelton’s book includes an Appendix with ideas for leading small groups.  These include always being prepared and flexible, allowing for open yet unforced discussion, listening more than talking, and respectfully embracing differences of opinion.

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The legal profession doesn’t have a leadership problem—it has a character problem

In case you missed it: “The legal profession doesn’t have a leadership problem—it has a character problem”, by Charles Edwards. Mr. Edwards post in the ABA Journal is wonderful write-up on the importance of character in leadership. As Leah and I frequently discuss with law students, leadership alone is not enough – ethical leadership is the key to long-term success. By integrating best practices into leadership courses, we are preparing our students for their future roles.

If you haven’t read it yet, Mr. Edwards post is worth the read: http://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/the-legal-profession-doesnt-have-a-leadership-problem-it-has-a-character-problem

-SLR

Academia, Leadership, Uncategorized

Professor Liz Fraley’s Fall 2018 Commencement Speech

By Leah Teague & Stephen Rispoli 

Hearing the insightful and inspiring speech given by Professor Counseller at the Winter 2019 commencement, got us thinking about the speech Professor Fraley made at the Fall 2018 commencement ceremony.

Photo of Associate Professor of Law Liz Fraley Speaking at Baylor Law's Commencement, Fall 2018
Associate Professor of Law Liz Fraley Speaking at Baylor Law’s Commencement, Fall 2018

 Professor Fraley gave a less than conventional commencement speech, addressing the topics of failure and fear. She began by recasting failure not as a character flaw, but as part of life– that failing is proof that we are trying. She told the graduates, “Social media paints this glossy picture of a life where no one fails, no one doubts, no one struggles, no one even has a pimple, but that is not real.” Failure does not mean that you cannot succeed, but rather that you were trying something daring in order to make a change. “For a firework to light up the night sky, it has to explode. And so, too, will you need to spontaneously combust on occasion to see how bright a light you can be in this world.”

Professor Fraley told the graduates a story about the first case she lost. She had been on a streak of winning cases and thought she was invincible. Representing a defendant in a case with bad facts for her clients, an East Texas jury reminded her that no lawyer can win them all. She then told the graduates that she was feeling sorry for herself but had to get up the next day and had to go right back to work. At her first meeting the next day with an expert witness, she saw a daily quote calendar on his desk. “The quote for that day was, ‘success is not about how high you bounce, but high how you bounce back after you hit bottom.’” Professor Fraley told the graduates that she asked if she could have that page, he graciously agreed, and she kept it taped inside her top desk drawer as a reminder about what failure means and what success is really about.

Professor Fraley talked about how fear is failure’s best friend; that fear is there to tell you failure may always be around the next corner. Fear is there to make us doubt ourselves and think that we cannot do it, whatever “it” is. Knowledge and fear of failing comes because we care, and we dare. She credited Nelson Mandela for three principles she uses as guides for her life: 1) Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it, 2) the greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall, and 3) there is no passion to be found in playing small.

Professor Fraley told the graduates that “Out of this willingness to take risk and to fail and to fear comes growth.” Professor Fraley spoke to the graduates about watching them in class where they had to face fear and failure every day.  She noted, “you came back for more day after day. I don’t know whether you were brave or whether you were too afraid not to, and it doesn’t matter.” Professor Fraley left the graduates with a few final words of wisdom. “Fail mightily. Laugh at yourself when you do. Get back up and fail and laugh again and embrace the glorious mess that is being alive.”

Professor Fraley’s speech is embedded below:

-LT & SLR