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Professional Development

The Secret to Becoming a Great Leader Isn’t So Secret—It's Hard Work

Jeremy Scholtes

The Secret to Becoming a Great Leader Isn’t So Secret—It's Hard Work
Clerkenwell via iStock

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Leaders are born, not made (or so the saying goes). Some people just have that special something that drives them to lead whenever two or more people come together. Right? Hold on a second. For many, being born a leader isn’t the whole story.

Timing and circumstance can often be as important as an innate talent to lead. To shape the desired future for any organization, there first should be a vision. Teams have to be developed and inspired. Ground rules have to be set. Then there is building the plan to accomplish well-defined goals and objectives.

So, yes, some leaders are born. But most of us have to work hard to become leaders. It is necessary to build fundamental skill sets for organizational success. The good news is that many local and state bar associations offer some form of leadership training. Generally, these programs assemble between 10 and 50 up-and-coming leaders for monthly or semimonthly meetings to network, attend trainings, and work on community-based projects to develop and hone the skills it takes to be a successful leader.

I just completed a 12-month intensive leadership academy experience offered by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA). As one of fourteen MSBA Leadership Academy Fellows selected for the MSBA’s Fellow class, I was taught some basics about how to lead. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Get Training

Leaders get training. In the leadership academy, I went to monthly trainings and learned about public speaking, how to fundraise, write grants, engage the media, and facilitate effective meetings. I learned how to negotiate, build consensus, be civil and ethical, and engage senior leaders. Most of the trainings were small, had two or three trainers, and focused on building skill sets in the context of a public service project, our legal practice, and the bar.

Practice What You Learn by Executing a Specific Project

My peers and I applied some of the skills we learned in training while we developed and executed a public service project. Our project was called “Maryland Attorneys Working Against Labor Trafficking.” We partnered with other community organizations and subject-matter experts and together trained pro bono attorneys to help undocumented immigrants who were victims of violent crimes or human trafficking obtain visas. We tried to inspire local attorneys to learn the basics about the issues faced by our targeted undocumented immigrant population and to provide one-on-one consultations with workshop attendees.

Be Mentored

To be a leader, you should be willing to learn from others. As MSBA Fellows, we engaged in a mentorship program with former Leadership Academy Fellows and other MSBA leaders. We networked with dozens of experienced judges, practitioners, and business leaders and heard their stories about how to be better leaders. As a result, we are now better prepared to contribute as team members and to step up to lead in any number of different organizations (and, perhaps even more importantly, everyday situations). So, what are you waiting for? The next step in growing your leadership potential is to find out if your state or local bar has a leadership academy. Leaders take the initiative. Will you?