Listening as leadership

Volume 30 Number 6

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Instead of spending most of our energy maintaining and even defending the status quo, listening will provide the energy to allow ourselves to be open to the challenges we must face tomorrow.I was recently with a group of lawyers who were talking with law students. One of the students asked what qualities are important for good lawyering. The first answer offered to these eager students was that in order to be a good lawyer, one must be a very good listener. It was a great answer.

It’s also a critical quality for lawyer-leaders.

The effectiveness of listening as a leadership tool, of course, depends on the quality of the listening. Listening with prejudgments is not really listening. Defensive listening is equally ineffective.

But listening with an open mind—open to change, open to the people we serve, open to the world around us, and open to the challenges facing our profession—can be extremely rewarding.

When bar leaders—volunteer and professional—become involved in that kind of listening, we learn amazing things. We learn about issues in the profession that we did not fully recognize as issues. We learn that some of our programs need adjusting—or even shelving. We learn that there are threats to our profession that need to be addressed. We learn that much of what bar associations do is right on the money. And we learn that those with whom we have the privilege to work are some of the best people in the world.

The process of listening will also give our constituents an opportunity to think through the issues they face. There is no more effective crucible than the opportunity to articulate one’s concerns and hopes. It is also a perfect avenue to refresh and energize our volunteer base.

There are many ways to listen. You can have listening sessions, where you invite people to sit down with you and air their concerns. You can call people—they will respond. You can ask for written input. You can get others to help you listen. All you really have to do is ask.

Is asking these kinds of questions scary? You bet!

Will it cure all? Not at all!

It might even lead to some ambiguity. But it is an important part of effective bar leadership.

Instead of spending most of our energy maintaining and even defending the status quo, listening will provide the energy to allow ourselves to be open to the challenges we must face tomorrow.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, who likely said it best: You can hear an awful lot just by listening!

Let us know what you hear. We are listening, too.

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