Have you ever been in a situation where your ideas or concerns, as expressed to those in authority, did not lead to action? Did it leave you feeling dissatisfied and powerless? Many of us have found ourselves in these frustrating situations– or even hopeless– because we had no authority to change the situation. Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Leading Without Authority, is written to encourage and empower us as leaders and influencers, especially in situations where we have no title, position, or power of authority to act.
Ferrazzi frames a new dynamic for leadership that encourages those in a follower position, and even those in a leadership position, to use collaborative approaches to problem-solving that redefine the traditional power paradigm. Ferrazzi places this new framework on our ability to create our own team, identify our own goals, and effect change. It is packed with strategies and approaches to leading without authority, not only for those who teach leadership but particularly important for law students and young lawyers who have not reached a point in their career to hold traditional leadership power or positions.
We highly encourage you to pick up or download a copy and recommend it to your law students. The lessons in it will help them, starting with their internships and clerkships this summer.
The Dark Side of Goal Setting: Ethical Pitfalls for the Unwary
In the last two weeks we applauded the practice of goal setting – whether helping law students create a plan of action for doing their best work or leading colleagues through a formal strategy to imagine the next 12 months or 10 years. Setting goals is important for a variety of reasons. Creating goals furthers one’s professional development and career advancement. Procedures for establishing and assessing goals are necessary for an organization’s efficient operation. Aligning goals with one’s values and passions promotes wellness and can lead to living one’s best life.
Goal setting also can lead to actions that are dishonorable, unproductive, or harmful. There is a dark side to human behavior when goals are unattainable or performance falls just short of what appears to be a reasonable goal. Goal setting that is too aggressive can lead to unethical behavior, including a lack of independent judgement expected of lawyers.
When faced with the possibility of failure, some may cut corners to meet a goal. Meeting an expectation may be more important to a prideful or insecure person than staying true to their underlying principles and values or even the overall or long-term goal. Unaddressed habits of shortcuts will have consequences, sooner or later. An organization with a culture that tolerates a lack of accountability – or worse encourages dishonesty – cannot have a happy ending. The fall of Enron Corporation is a prime example. In Chapter 9: Setting Goals of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we discuss Enron:
Leading up to [Enron’s] filing for bankruptcy, $320 million in bonus payments and other special cash distributions were paid to Enron executives in accordance with performance-based programs. Prosecutors argued that the executives’ unethical decisions and behavior (setting up shell entities to hide financial losses, etc.) could be traced to large bonuses paid based on the financial performance of the organization. The corruption that ruined lives and toppled a global powerhouse organization ensued from incentivized, performance-based goal setting in an environment devoid of ethical leadership at the top.”
In Chapter 12: Integrity and Character, we return to a discussion of lawyers associated with Enron who failed to ask hard questions or take initiative to investigate when something should have been questioned. Mechanical or rigid goals can dehumanize an organization’s operation and treat employees as if they are merely a cog in the wheel with no allowance for independent judgement or individual action. When lawyers work to simply follow orders or approach their duties with an attitude of meeting minimum expectations, our profession is failing to meet our duty in ABA Model Rule 5.4, Professional Independence of a Lawyer. Lawyers have a higher obligation to society to maintain direction and control of our professional judgment, regardless of the goals set before us. Lessons from Enron must not be forgotten.
Missing the mark, falling short of a goal, has other consequences for those who fail to manage failure in a healthy manner. Without this ability to fail gracefully, some internalize failure, even minor shortcomings, as a condemnation of their entire self-worth. These tendencies are exacerbated when cognitive abilities are taxed, as they often are during law school and beyond. Exhaustion and stress can distract us as we struggle to survive, preventing us from checking behavior against values and professional duties. Failure can also be a challenge for individuals who are used to success, as is often the case with law students. Throughout our course we look for opportunities to normalize failure so that students accept failure as necessary to growth. We teach our students to view failure with a growth mindset.
With the right approach, setting goals and measuring performance accordingly allows organizations to improve operations and meet desired objectives. Personal and professional goals establish a roadmap for creating a more intentional, purpose-driven life. But with any plan, roadblocks, detours, or changes in destinations should be expected and accommodated without compromising principles and purpose, regardless of the pressures and influences along the way.
Ethical obligations should be part of any analysis to weigh the costs and benefits of actions. We know our students will face difficult decisions as they enter a stressful, bottom-line-oriented profession. We also know work-life balance is a strong personal motivation. By emphasizing ethics and values, we will better equip our students and young lawyers to make the right, or better, choices. If we teach students to prioritize them, hopefully they will continue to do so when the stakes are high, such as when a lucrative fee, sizeable bonus, or their future is on the line.
In our last post we encouraged our readers to make time for setting and evaluating goals and to help law students (and young lawyers) do the same. In this post we provide resources for use with the SMART technique (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) for goal setting. We include the SMART technique in our textbook, Fundamental of Lawyer Leadership. In fact, we included it twice. We introduce students to the SMART goal-setting method in Chapter 9, Setting Goals, and we return to it in Chapter 20, How Leaders Manage Effectively, when discussing the importance of delegating and offering suggestions for how to delegate successfully.
Searching for goal setting advice offered to lawyers led to articles also recommending the SMART technique. I particularly liked Lawyer Personal and Career Goals because it starts with the question,
“’[W]hat’s your why?’ What kind of life do you want? … What impact do you want your work to have? Behind all those questions is your ‘why.’ It’s what gets you up in the morning and propels you through your day.”
The “why” should be the basis for setting goals and the control for evaluating actions.
Since the SMART technique is mentioned in all, I did some digging to learn more about its origin. Some sources suggest the renowned Peter Drucker should be credited with its creation based upon his 1954 book “The Practice of Management.” Drucker, credited as the father of modern business management, believed management involved creating systems to set objectives and evaluate performance as part of a wholistic approach to building effective and responsible organizations and institutions. Drucker, born in Austria and raised in Germany, earned a Ph.D. in International Law in 1932 and moved to America two years after some of his work was banned and burned by the Nazi. As with all of us, Drucker’s teachings were influenced by his life experiences. He believed “[m]anagement, practiced well,” was necessary not only for the successful functioning of a company but also as the “bulwark against evil” he witnessed in society. I think Drucker would approve of our efforts to equip law students to be ethical lawyers who own their obligation to be the guardians of democracy.
The first published article using the SMART acronym appears to have been written by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham for the November 1981 issue of Management Review, titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” Written for business managers to assist with being more thoughtful about setting out a plan to accomplish an objective, they encourage these 5 considerations for each goal:
Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Attainable – specify who will do it.
Relevant – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
We hope you will share with us the ways in which you incorporate the SMART technique into your work to better prepare law students and lawyers for leadership.
Here is to a new year that bring less disruption and more togetherness!
January is a time when lots of people contemplate resolutions for the new year – a goal setting exercise of sorts. For those of us whose work calendar is tied to the academic year we have two additional times to routinely consider our goals and set objectives and action steps. We spend time each summer to construct plans for the fall or perhaps the entire academic year. In early winter we plan for the upcoming spring term. We are devoting this month to tips for effective goal setting practices.
Some of us are already regimented goal setters. Using daily planners, some gain a sense of security in the process of organizing daily tasks to be allocated across the precious few waking hours each day. Others prefer to view the weeks and months ahead as milestones to measure progress in the near future. This time of year, some think about last year’s New Year’s resolutions (i.e., whether met or still outstanding) before deciding the focus of efforts for this year. Still others engage in a retreat-like phenomenon to consider their next big direction in life. All these processes are goal-setting exercises, whether recognized as such or not. If any of these describe you, we hope what we offer will provide new resources to consider and a reason to assess your own goal setting routine.
For those who believe life is best lived by embracing spontaneity, we will offer advice for strategic engagement that is comfortable and productive. Dreams of great works without a plan of action can strand you in a state of unfulfilled potential and leave you longing for answer to the question of what if I had done this or that differently. Whatever our personality, we all benefit from setting aside some time periodically to consider our priorities and imagine great accomplishments and meaningful impacts that allow us to leave a desired legacy.
The same is true of our law students. Students commonly and falsely believe that their life will never be busier than their challenging-to-overwhelming time in law school. We know there is little truth in this assumption. As we seek to provide a more holistic approach to preparing our students for success and impact, we should make time to address the benefits of goal setting and offer suggestions for practices.
We already use goal setting techniques when we counsel students. For example, if a student seeks advice about how to make a good grade in a particular class (or a better grade than before), then they have stated a goal. We then help them to create a plan of action to accomplish the objectives that must be met in order to achieve the goal (i.e., sufficiently preparing for each class, reviewing and outlining material, studying for the exam, etc.). Many of our students come to law school with an understanding of the importance of the process and how to do it. Some do not and need additional assistance.
Whether the goal is passing a class, graduating summa cum laude, making a mock trial team, or winning an election as student body officer, providing students with instruction on goal setting is beneficial to them now. They will better manage their time and achieve more success in law school. If we help students develop the habit of setting goals and periodically assessing their progress while in law school, we give them one more tool to use on their journey to success and satisfaction in life after law school.