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Gratefulness takes reflection… and reflection spurs gratefulness.

By Stephen Rispoli

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:

https://getpocket.com/collections/how-to-be-grateful

– SLR

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Making criticism constructive: growing through feedback

By Leah Teague, Stephen Rispoli, and Liz Fraley

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.

For an insightful explanation of triggers that hamper our ability to learn from feedback, we recommend Finding the Coaching in Criticism, by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2014).

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.

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Emotional Intelligence: “Leadership: Agility in the Face of Fragility”

By Stephen Rispoli

This article, posted in the November 2020 Leadership Issue of the ABA’s Law Practice Magazine, examines the concepts of agility and fragility in uncertain and ever-changing times. Although it deals with the stresses of the pandemic as they relate to the need for agility and recognizing fragility within teammates, these lessons in emotional intelligence are applicable to nearly every situation where the outcome or future is not guaranteed. As the pandemic drags on nearly a year later, it is perhaps more crucial now that ever as we deal with the effects of a long-term crisis.

The article also touches upon two other concepts that I like to discuss with students – efficiency and effectiveness. As the article notes, while many firms focus upon efficiency, they should also be focused upon efficiency’s necessary twin – effectiveness. Checking in on your colleagues to make sure that they are getting their work done in stress times is focusing upon efficiency. But effectiveness is also making sure that your colleagues are doing well. As the saying goes, “you must be doing well to do good.” This approach works with all constituencies, not just work colleagues – family, friends, and clients. We can use our emotional intelligence skills to connect with those around us and help them through difficult situations.

Finally, a note about fragility. Although “fragility” often takes a negative connotation, I really liked it in this context. It does not encourage fragility, but rather helps us look for symptoms of stress and anxiety in others when they are outwardly projecting confidence and positivity. It encourages us to look for moments and ways to help others when they may be struggling. If that’s not using emotional intelligence to make the world a little better, I do not know what is.

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.

– SLR


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Did George Washington’s Journey to Strengthen his Emotional Intelligence Contribute to His Success?

By Leah Teague


“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them,
to enjoy them and to dominate them.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be self-aware of the impact of our emotions – and control them – and it is awareness of and understanding the emotions of others. At the core, Emotional Intelligence is connecting with others through empathy to build relationships and achieve goals.

Emotional Intelligence is a modern-day concept. No studies or books could have guided Washington back in his day. But as we study Washington’s development as a leader, do his efforts provide an example of what can happen if one is dedicated to improving one’s emotional intelligence?

Last week, Baylor Law was fortunate to host a virtual presentation on Leadership Lessons from George Washington. Award-winning historian David Stewart, was interviewed by Talmage Boston, a well-respected trial lawyer and author, to discuss the leadership journey of our first president. In his research for his latest book, George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, Stewart discovered that “Washington’s rise constitutes one of the greatest self-reinvention in history.”

David Stewart described George Washington as a brash and arrogant young man – far from the respected father figure we see in portraits. Stewart notes, “From his earliest days, Washington hungered for distinction, for a high reputation that would validate his worth. Washington wrote in his early twenties that ‘the chief part of my happiness’ was ‘the esteem and notice the country has been pleased to honor me with.’” His judgment in early years appeared to have been guided, or misguided, by an excessive ego. And his failures were many in those early military years. Stewart writes of a transformation that took place in his mid-twenties. “Through that prolonged period of forced introspection, Washington evidently resolved on a fundamental change of direction.” By his mid-forties, Washington had transformed himself into the legendary leader known as a caring and quite gentleman who wrote much later in life that his “only ambition is to do my duty in this world as well as I am capable of performing it and to merit the good opinion of all good men.” 

The respected leader at the First Continental Congress in 1774 was “almost unrecognizable when compared to the man who led the Virginia Regiment two decades before,” wrote Stewart. To what does Stewart attribute this transformation?

Washington studied his flaws. From a young age, he struggled against his own nature. His early missteps might have crippled the prospects of a person with less dogged commitment to self-improvement. He ruthlessly suppressed qualities that could hinder his advancement and mastered those that could assist it. Washington’s story is not one of effortless superiority, but one of excellence achieved with great effort.

As we shared in our last blog on Emotional Intelligence, willingness to earnestly and honestly examine yourself and seek self-control are hallmarks of Emotional Intelligence. Awareness of other people and their circumstances with a desire to build relationships and work well with others represent two more key components of EI. George Washington may not have possessed it at the beginning of his career, but his later unanimous election victories indicate he earned it in abundance.

Stewart’s book is, according to the Wall Street Journal, “an outstanding biography that both avoids hagiography and acknowledges the greatness of Washington’s character.” I also learned that while Washington was not a lawyer, he served as Fairfax County Court justice for six years and presided over hundreds of matters. His time as a judge “season[ed] his judgment,” “bolstered his habits of acting cooperatively with peers, listening to differing views, and reconciling his ideas with those of others,” all of which well prepared him for his role as our Founding Father and First President. Washington’s willingness to listen to others with differing opinions and his selfless leadership were essential to seeing our nation through its fragile beginnings. Stewart stated, “Washington gave the United States something every nation needs, but few get: a national hero who understands that heroism includes giving up power and trusting your neighbors, that integrity and virtue – old-fashion concepts even in the eighteenth century – are a greater legacy than personal aggrandizement and national conquest.”   

In the interview, we appreciate Stewart’s thoughtful response to questions about Washington’s unwillingness to free his slaves during his lifetime which provides yet another reason to include Washington in our leadership studies. Washington could make an ideal subject for a class discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of our leaders and the complicated nature of leading in the midst of challenging times. We highly recommend the book, and we hope you enjoy the interview!

– LEAH