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:
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.
Well, he’s Trekkie Monster, and you’re Kate Monster.
You’re both Monsters.
Are you two related?
What?! Princeton, I’m surprised at you! I find that racist!
Oh, well, I’m sorry! I was just asking!
Well, it’s a touchy subject. No, not all Monsters are related. What are you trying say, huh? That we all look the same to you?
The dialog above sets up the song, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist from the Broadway musical, “Avenue Q.” Beyond the catchy tune, the song acknowledges something we know is true: we all harbor biases about different people based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and a host of other categories like Southerner or Yankee.
With this post, we continue our focus on cultural intelligence, the challenge for the month of July. We noted in the first blog post on this challenge that developing cultural intelligence involves five steps. With this post, we discuss the third step, addressing implicit bias. We challenge you to address the implicit bias you may have learned along the way.
As the song from Avenue Q notes, bigotry has never been exclusively white; we all harbor biases, some overt biases and some implicit or unconscious biases because we are human. Experts believe that implicit biases are the result of adaptive behavior, the need to “function at maximum capacity by finding patterns among information or events or groups of individuals as a way of enabling us to make decisions without really thinking about it” according to Dr. Kierra S. Barnett, a post-doctoral researcher at the Kirwan Institute. Dr. Michelle van Ryan, a professor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing notes that, “[I]mplicit biases are basically this [learning] system applying whatever information [the system has] learned, even if it’s negative and inaccurate, to whole groups of people.”
That an individual harbors biases doesn’t make him or her a bad person, unless, that individual refuses to acknowledge their own biases or acts out of those biases in ways that cause tangible harm to the people with whom they interact or the organizations with which they work. Plenty of studies in the health care field document the effects implicit bias can have on patient care. For examples, see here and here.
But the impact of implicit bias is not limited to health care. Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan conducted a field study to answer the question, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” Bertrand and Mullainathan discovered, using fictitious resumes to respond to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston, that having a name associated with African Americans (like Jamal and Lakisha) resulted in significantly fewer callbacks for interviews than those candidates assumed to be white because of names like Emily and Greg, even though the credentials were the same.
We in the legal field are not immune to unconscious bias. Researchers from the leadership consulting firm Nextion submitted a legal memo drafted by five law firm partners from different firms to some 53 other partners at 22 law firms who agreed to participate in a writing analysis study, in which they would evaluate the submitted memo. All evaluators were told the memo was written by Thomas Meyer, a third-year associate who was a graduate of NYU Law School. However, approximately half of the evaluators were told the hypothetical Thomas Meyer was black; the other half were told he was white. The average evaluation of the memo by the white Thomas Meyer scored almost a full point higher than that of the black Thomas Meyer, 4.1 versus 3.2. The Nextion researchers were clever; they intentionally inserted 22 errors into the memo. The evaluators of the black Thomas Meyer were more likely to find those errors than the evaluators of the white Thomas Meyer.
We urge you to consider your own biases, particularly your implicit biases. If you have not taken one of the implicit attitude tests that are part of a Harvard study and meant to disclose unconscious biases, I urge you to take one here. We acknowledge that the Harvard has its detractors, but that the IAT may be flawed is not evidence that implicit bias doesn’t exist. Rather, measuring it may be difficult.
Finally, I encourage you to review at least the executive summary of the ABA study, You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. It outlines four patterns of bias in the legal profession: 1) prove-it-again bias; 2) tightrope bias; 3) maternal wall bias; and 4) tug of war bias. Consider whether you, or your firm or organization, may have unwittingly slipped into these patterns. Implicit biases are difficult to change, but we can start by acknowledging them.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”
–David Wallace Foster
While Foster was urging general awareness of the world, the same should be said of culture. It is so much a part of who we are that it is often easy to forget it until we become the proverbial fish out of water or we encounter others who are unfamiliar with the water in which we swim.
As we continue our focus on developing cultural intelligence as one tool in the leader’s tool kit, the first step is awareness of one’s own culture. Culture, as you will recall, is the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave, and make judgements about the world. Culture is so ingrained in us that, for example, as Americans, we may fail to understand why people from other parts of the world recoil at our offer of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick snack, unaware that while the PB&J sandwich is a well-established part of American culture (according to a survey, the average American adult consumes three PB&J sandwiches every month, and nearly half of Americans regularly enjoy a good PB&J sandwich), many non-Americans find this combination of flavors disgusting, according to delish.com; they prefer other foods that are part of their culture. Vegemite, anyone? How about chocolate-covered locusts?
When we’re talking about culture, there’s rarely a right or a wrong; there’s just different. Different ideas on food are amusing, but imagine how harmful it can be when “different” is viewed negatively. Recently, a colleague relayed a story about an interview to hire a new professor in his department. The male candidate, hailing from one of the African countries, repeatedly referred to his spouse as “Wife” rather than using her given name, a practice the other members of the interview team found demeaning and off-putting, failing to recognize that in the candidate’s culture, his reference to her as, “Wife” was a show of respect to his spouse. They opted not to advance the candidate in the hiring process, perhaps missing out on a wonderful addition to the department. Making a value judgement about another culture, especially a negative one, can harm one’s endeavors and undermine developing the cross-cultural relationships essential to being an effective leader.
The first step to being a leader who can interact effectively with people of different cultures is to become aware of the water in which we swim. We can’t understand other cultures unless we are sensitive to our own. A simple exercise, adapted from an article in the Journal of Management Education, gives you and the individuals you teach or mentor a chance to consider your own culture. For this exercise, consider how you would describe your culture, focusing on what distinguishes you culturally from others, describing some of the customs, rituals, and ceremonies associated with your cultural group. Continue by considering a member of your cultural group, excluding family members, who is a good role model for others in your cultural group and what makes them a good role model. Finally, consider a situation when you felt out of place because of being different from others. What was it that made you feel different? To take this exercise a step further, answer the same questions, placing yourself in the shoes of a person from a different cultural background.
As you think about your culture, keep in mind that you are influenced by many cultures of which you are a member: American culture; legal culture; the culture of your race or ethnicity; religious culture; and many others. Developing cultural intelligence is not a one-time goal to be checked off on the to-do list of effective leadership. Rather it involves regularly engaging in activities to enhance one’s cultural intelligence, and regularly thinking about this first step. It’s not an easy step to take, but it is well worthwhile.
To get a better sense of your culture, consider the following questions:
How do people in your culture greet each other? With a hug? A handshake? A kiss on the cheek?
How do you address people in your culture? With a title? By first name, regardless of the age of the speaker or the listener? As Auntie or Uncle?
What response is appropriate when those in your culture are paid a compliment? A simple thank you or a compliment in return?
How do people in your culture disagree with each other? How do they criticize or correct each other? Who is allowed to be critical?
How do people in your culture treat individuals that are outside the group?
This is a non-exhaustive list (obviously) to start to focus on those parts of the cultures in which you swim that may differ from those outside your culture. Please feel free to share your thoughts about this exercise and your observations about culture in the comments below.