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Vol. 33, No. 6

Leading the Leaders

by Michelle A. Behnke

Each year, the ABA Division for Bar Services and the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services host the Bar Leadership Institute. As the chair of the committee, I feel a little like I’m leading the leaders. I try to remember that leading is a privilege, not a right, and if done well, people actually follow you instead of revolting or running in the other direction.

I also remind myself that although leadership sometimes seems like a solitary journey, it really shouldn’t be. There are many who want you to succeed and are there to help you, like an executive director or a staff director. For me, working with Roseanne Lucianek and the entire staff at the Division for Bar Services gave me a great collaborative working relationship and the ability to be successful in my leadership role.

As a leader, you will also have colleagues within your organization and other organizations who can be sounding boards, help you find solutions, share experiences, and just plain listen when you need a friendly ear. I found great colleagues within my state bar, at other state and local bars, and on the Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services. When you connect with your colleagues, the work is so much fun and does not seem as challenging. I’d like to thank all of the members of the standing committee whom I’ve had the pleasure of serving with over the last four years. You made the meetings fun and productive.

I learned during my term as president of the State Bar of Wisconsin and again as chair of the standing committee that, like doctors, our pledge as leaders should be, “First do no harm.” That said, most of us are Type A personalities and we want to do more than “no harm.” We have ideas and programs, goals and aspirations. We want to leave our mark so that someone will know we were there and that we tried. We want to lead. We want to help our profession and our communities. The question is, how can you best help?

You can help by focusing on member issues such as practicing in tough economic times, using resources wisely, getting people involved, serving as the voice of the profession, educating the public, and ensuring access to justice. By focusing on these important matters, you will strengthen your association and strengthen the relationship with members.

Let me suggest that the strength, health, and vitality of an organization are just as important as any single project or program. Let me suggest that reaching out to members, asking them to be a part of the work of the organization can be as important as a 500page report. Let me suggest that the strength and success of those who follow you say as much about your leadership as the success you enjoy during your term. All of these actions help your organization serve its members and thereby help your members meet the challenges they face each day in practice. Nothing is more rewarding than serving your members and, in turn, helping them serve the communities in which they practice. You, too, are leading the leaders.

Like some of you, I will soon be finishing a term of leadership, and it brings both a little joy and a little sadness. I have had the pleasure of chairing the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services for the last three years. The folks whom I have served with have allowed me to lead, and in many ways, have helped me lead. Over the past several years, the standing committee has worked to bring leaders and resources together and serve you, the bar association leaders. Please let us know what you find helpful, what you need more of, and ways that we can help you lead.