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Be S.M.A.R.T. With Goal Setting

By Leah Teague


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. 

Other recent articles written for lawyers:

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.

Works recognizing the benefits of adopting “specific and measurable” goals and objectives can be traced back to Drucker and others in the 1940s and 1950s. Particularly interesting to those of us at Baylor who knew Paul J. Meyer, a report on the History of SMART Objectives credits Meyer with use of the SMART acronym in his work “Personal Success Planner” in 1965. Meyer, a long-time resident of Waco and generous benefactor to Baylor University, was “a pioneer of the personal development industry.” Through his companies, Success Motivation Institute and Leadership Management Institute, Meyer’s programs were produced in more than 70 countries and 27 languages and influenced other renowned leadership authors (such as John C. Maxwell).

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.

– LEAH

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Setting Goals

By Leah Teague


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.

Stay tuned for practical tips next week!

– LEAH

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The Talent Code – Book Review

Guest Post by Baylor Law Student Rikki Feezor

Below is a short book review written by Rikki Feezor, a law student in our latest leadership development class. With this month’s focus on feedback as a critical component of learning and growing in leadership, we invite you to read Rikki’s review of The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle. Coyle’s advice for maximizing one’s potential highlights the importance of Master Coaches who give constructive feedback and recipients being open to learning from feedback and failure with a mindset for growth.

The Talent Code tackles the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Are people born with better skills than others, or does everything come down to practice, practice, practice? This book takes a very scientific approach to determining how we as humans process information to learn skills. The overall theme is that learning is the most crucial part of life or, at the very minimum, one of the most crucial parts of life. We are taught all these subjects growing up, yet why are we never taught how to learn? By visiting “talent hotbeds,” small places around the world that produce statistically impossible numbers of great athletes, artists, and performers, author Dan Coyle discovers what lies behind excellence. The Talent Code mentions three foundational elements of mastering any skill – Deep Practice, Ignition, and Master Coaching.

Deep Practice emphasizes the importance of repeated failures in the learning process. Every time you fail and figure out where you fell short, a phenomenon occurs in your brain where cell linings are reinforced with a myelin coating that increases the speed at which your brain makes connections and improvements in the skill. Each failure makes your next attempt slightly more accurate. Deep Practice is the act of maximizing myelin production by practicing the part of any skill that cause the most failures, which in turn maximizes productivity in skill development.

My favorite part of the book is when researchers monitor how a child learns to play the clarinet. One would think that the process of learning is a straight line moving through time; however, during these practice sessions, something very different happens. The student begins to learn at an incredibly accelerated pace, then comes to a halt and makes almost no progress for the remaining amount of time. At this moment, they discover that learning comes not in a linear fashion but instead through major jumps when the proper signaling is happening in the brain. Deep Practice is implemented at the points where learning becomes stagnant, because the source of failure is identified and reconciled with slow and steady improvements in practice methods.

Ignition is the idea that passion and long-term vision is ignited at specific moments in one’s life. The idea is that when you’re inspired to develop a skill from a deep and meaningful event, as opposed to a random or spontaneous thought, the long-term aspiration develops and ignites the stamina needed to push through the failures during Deep Practice.

Master Coaching deeply intertwines with Ignition. When teachers instruct in ways that their specific student responds to, this can engage the ignition (or passion) that accelerates the Deep Practice. In addition, Master Coaches only praise effort and slow progress, not innate talent or intelligence. Praise is only given when it is earned

There are some chapters on how Master Coaching works, but the Master Coaching aspect that I found to be most related to leadership is the changing of coaching style. Too often, we try to make a “one-size-fits-all” mold, and then reject the ones that don’t fit into the mold. However, the reality of the situation is that different people respond best to different teaching styles. One of the characters in the book is a music teacher. He is straightforward and loud with a student, then just turns around and provides calm, gentle instructions to another student. Why would one student get yelled at while the other gently encouraged? Because that is what that individual child needed in order to develop best. This aspect transfers into leadership in precisely the same way. There will be times that to help someone develop to the best of their abilities. You will have to adapt and determine if they need a pep talk or to be yelled at. What ignites this specific student to continue to learn and improve? Great leadership involves being able to adapt to the people whom you are leading.

Ignition, followed by Deep Practice, which are both facilitated by Master Coaching results in extreme talent. These building blocks of learning were observed by Coyle in a variety of circumstances, from soccer practice in the ever-successful Brazilian soccer community, to South Korean women’s tennis programs, to a formerly failing but now highly accredited U.S. high school’s SAT prep program. No matter the subject or skill, when these foundations are present in the learning process, talent flourishes. 

In the leadership context, this book can be used as a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach. The Master Coaching element I found most useful because it teaches you what to look for when looking for mentors and how you should go about mentoring. In other words, it teaches you not only how to be a good leader but also how to be a good follower.

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Giving Feedback

Guest Post by Baylor Law Professor Greg White

Students say that they love feedback. But that’s not completely true. They love feedback that they believe in.

Put yourself in the student’s shoes. They want to hear what they’ve done right (or wrong), and they want to do better. When the feedback begins, though, what they hear is often criticism. As justified as the criticism might be, it’s hard for anyone to hear that the effort they expended was not really very good. Instead of feeling that they are closer to being a lawyer, the student feels they are getting further away. The challenge is to present the feedback so that it is received with appreciation and so that stimulates the mind – not so that is depresses the spirit.

One effective way to motivate is to delay your feedback. Let the student talk first. Ask: What did you find challenging? Did you think you did some part poorly? Where would you like to improve? What was the hardest part of the work?

Those answers and the self-reflection they require opens the discussion with the student’s own concerns, instead of the instructor’s critique . The instructor’s critique comes from a person of experience and expertise. That can be intimidating.  Let the student tell you what they need help with first. When they get the help they wanted, they are ready to talk about improvements they didn’t know were necessary, and improvements they never considered.

I recently talked to a student who had turned in a required assignment – the first draft of an appellate brief. In my opinion, this student was just awful at proofreading. Obvious spelling mistakes, repeated words, odd spacing and poor grammar plagued his brief – so much so that I had a hard time reading the thing. When he came to my office, I asked him, “What was the one thing you think you could do better?” He spoke up quickly, “I have a hard time with the details.” That led to a discussion about a trait he and I have in common – we love to have someone else check our work. That wasn’t possible with this assignment, so he needed some different tools. Grammarly and Brief Catch are both available to all students at Baylor Law, and we walked through using those as an electronic proofreader and style coach. Software is not perfect, but it was just the tool he needed. I wonder if we would have ended up sharing a common trait and worked on a good solution if I had started our conversation with “You know, I don’t think you did any editing and proofreading on this brief,” or “You need to spend some time editing and proofreading before you turn in the next draft.” Either would have been truthful and constructive. But, had a professor told me that, I would have recoiled a bit, and maybe wondered if I was cut out for this profession.

There is a time to be brutally honest. There are more times when we should seek to inspire.

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Handling emotional triggers: preparing our students for the practice of law?

By Liz Fraley

In one of my earliest days teaching, I was in the courtroom grading students as they gave their first-ever opening statement.  Nerves are common in this setting, and so we give feedback on both the structural and performance aspects of the exercise.  The last pair of students took their spots at counsel table, and I instructed the plaintiff’s attorney to proceed with her opening statement.  She stood in the center of the courtroom, spoke three words, and completely broke down.  These were not leaky tears; these were body-wracking sobs.  I confess to being caught unprepared for this.  I could not imagine what about this exercise had her emotionally distraught.  I did know, however, that I could not let her stop; I believed that would irreparably damage her confidence that she could complete the exercise.  I told her to get a drink of water (always a good move) and to continue.  She would get a few lines out and then cry again.  I kept prompting her with statements like “and then what happened” until she completed the exercise. 

After all the other students left the courtroom, she asked to talk to me about what had happened.  I readily agreed since I was mystified. She shared that when she was a first year student, she had attempted suicide.  Thankfully, she had gotten help and was much better.  However, the case packet used for opening statement by the students prior to her exercise involved an insurance dispute over death benefits: had the decedent died accidentally or by suicide? Hearing the previous students give opening statements in a case discussing suicide triggered the emotional response in this student.  I had not dealt with a “trigger” event like this before.  She assured me that having her continue and using calm, measured tones had been the right response for her.  She successfully completed my class and the bar, and happily seems to enjoy a good career.

Triggers present a lawyer-leader challenge, both in law school and in practice.  As fiduciaries, our own personal triggers cannot prevent our putting a client’s interests ahead of our own issues.  We cannot realistically expect a law firm to change its business to adapt to our triggers.  In other words, we cannot be fragile in this profession.  We have a job to do, and we must do it to the best of our abilities.  This certainly puts the onus on us as professionals either to seek the mental health help we need to manage our triggers or to be intentional about the type of practice setting we seek.  A lawyer like my young student probably does not need to work in a field where she would be likely to encounter suicide issues as part of her work.

In the law school setting, training lawyer leaders may require us to provide support and guidance to student who have unresolved trauma.  We do not serve students well by suggesting the world will adapt to their triggers, but we can help them understand both their professional obligations and how their own experiences can actually make them a more empathetic and wiser counselor.  In many settings, client have significant emotional responses to their legal issues:  sadness, anger, despair over the events and their lack of control over difficult and upsetting situations.  Transforming negatives into a positive enhancement for emotional intelligence makes a better lawyer. This type of work in law school also reinforces the internal locus of control skills that are needed for good leaders. 

CHALLENGE:

Identify a situation like mine when a student reacted in an unexpected manner to the discussion.

If you did not engage the student to discuss the situation, consider what possible reasons might have existed.

How might you handle similar situations in the future?

I would also love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you agree or disagree with my take on triggers?

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Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

By Victoria Filoso, Baylor Law Student


Friends,

As part of our leadership development class at Baylor Law, one of the assignments over the quarter is to read a book about leadership. Our definition of what constitutes a leadership book is broad for this purpose, so our students choose a wide variety of books, ranging from “leadership lite” (as Deborah Rhode called it) to biographies of famous leaders. The task to complete the assignment is for the students to write a short review covering the book and why someone who is interested in leadership might want to read it. So, we hope you enjoy Victoria Filoso’s review of Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

– Stephen Rispoli


Since her Ted Talk went viral in 2010, Brené Brown has established herself as the expert on vulnerability and leadership. Under the traditional, “old school” leadership mentality, these two terms were considered contradictory— leadership was about strength, dominance, and fearlessness. But Brown has flipped that notion on its head with her focus on how effective leadership is impossible without uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Dare to Lead explores how sustainable leadership requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. Brown seeks to inspire modern leaders to reject the traditional aggression associated with leadership, and to instead lean in to and understand our emotions in order to manage difficult situations.

Dare to Lead is divided into Brown’s four skill sets that make the best leaders: the ability to rumble with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. The most impactful section to me was the first. “Rumbling with vulnerability,” according to Brown, refers to how leaders deal with the fear and emotions we go through when things get uncertain and tough. Avoiding hard conversations, a lack of empathy, and increased shame are three ever-present conditions that hold us back from being courageous, the skill that Brown continually emphasizes leaders in our society need to master.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” It is second nature for most of us to be concerned with politeness. We are always assessing how others perceive and are constantly crafting ways to converse with others in a way that portrays us as “nice people.” Brown says that this practice of beating around the bush is actually holding us back from being effective leaders. Kindness is not being sweet; kindness is being honest and direct without being rude. In order to make progress we have to address weaknesses and being overly concerned with politeness is counter-intuitive to that. Leaders have to stop avoiding tough conversations because they are afraid of being unkind, because the only unkind thing is being unclear about what you want and need to reach your goals. Leaders need to have the courage to sit down and face those tough conversations head-on.

Courage is the entire foundation of leadership in Dare to Lead, but courage is impossible to achieve without rumbling with vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a weakness, and we need to stop thinking about it as one. Brown dedicates an entire section in her rumbling with vulnerability chapter on the “armor” we all wear to shield ourselves from fear and how armor is the problem, not the solution. Armored leadership drives perfectionism, operates from a scarcity mindset, squanders opportunities for joy and recognition, and rewards exhaustion as a status symbol. Daring leadership, on the other hand, acknowledges and embraces emotions and clarity, encourages empathy, and cultivates a culture of belonging rather than fitting-in. The daring mindset embraces the inevitable risks and fear that accompany leadership, whereas the armored mindset tries to deflect those risks and fears and they therefore stay unaddressed and unconquered. Brown says that being armored all the time should never be rewarded, and that instead we need to reward those who accept and venture into the unknown.

Being a law student through COVID-19, uncertainty has been the constant undertone of my thoughts this past year. After some cursory internet researching, I randomly selected Dare to Lead from the class syllabus to fulfill the book review requirement, but it ended up being one of the most beneficial tools to help me manage my anxiety surrounding the uncertainty. I was meant to read this book at this time, and I encourage everyone who is struggling to navigate our unpredictable world to read it. Because the truth is that the world will not get more certain once we overcome this pandemic. We are still going to face times where a good outcome is not guaranteed and we are still going to endure anxiety as a result –that is just the reality of being human and of being a lawyer. The only place we can make a difference is in our approach: we need to dive right into the water since we are going to get wet anyway. But if we dive in wearing armor, it will instantly drag us down to the bottom. The only way to swim across is to shed the armor, stay in the water, leave our eyes open, and keep moving forward. As Brown said, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”

– VICTORIA FILOSO