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.