July 18, 2013

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Maura Healey: Tackling DOMA — And Avoiding Micromanaging

Maura Healey: Tackling DOMA -- And Avoiding Micromanaging

Healey, MauraMaura Healey is Chief of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where she oversees work in consumer protection, health care, environment, antitrust, civil rights, and insurance and financial services. She is a BBA Council Member and previously served as a Co-Chair of the BBA’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section. She is a member of the Boston Advisory Board of the American Constitution Society, a recipient of the Mass LGTBQ Bar Association’s Larkin Award for Public Service, and a member of the Women’s Bar Association’s Leadership Initiative Charter Class.

1.      In your role as a leader, how do you motivate those working in a government agency?

The way I think about motivating those around me is by supporting them, giving them the room to exercise initiative on how to handle problems, and put their skills and expertise to work for the public interest. I try to encourage others to feel that they have the latitude to think carefully and critically about issues and how best to reach a solution, because a lot of what we do focuses on identifying problems and trying to solve them.

To avoid micromanaging, I’ve found it helpful to sit down with the other person, have a discussion, and agree on goals, expectations, and a course of action — then step back. As a manager, I might aid the process by asking questions or helping to make major decisions, but most of the time it’s about maintaining a positive environment. Part of that is reminding colleagues of the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish and why we love what we do, especially when somebody has a tough day…we all need those reminders.

Motivation isn’t difficult at the Attorney General’s Office because it’s full of people who love the work they do and are committed to it, so for me it’s more about making sure that they have the support they need to do their work, and that they know at all times – when things are going well or when they’re a little more challenging – that their work is appreciated. Collegiality is hugely important – and as a leader, it’s important to have a vision, confidence, and conviction, but to also foster a team environment so that everyone is rowing in the same direction. You accomplish a lot more that way.

 2.      What is the toughest ‘battle’ you’ve faced, and how did you manage and overcome it?

Working on our challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act taught me a lot. At the outset, which started with Attorney General Coakley’s belief and commitment to seeing this law undone, many thought the odds were stacked against a successful challenge, and we saw this as a real uphill fight. Tackling DOMA required a lot of homework and preparation, and building a team of smart, enthusiastic, and committed lawyers from our office and pro bono counsel from Wilmer Hale was key. I also think that having a strategy that sought to build a big tent and bring many supporters on board was integral. One of the challenges, but also one of the great joys, was getting to work so collaboratively with great lawyers and firms, bar associations, academics, businesses, civil rights organizations, and others on framing the issues and making the case. There were ups and downs, but happily, having a plan and sticking with it through the long haul paid off. Another big part of leadership that we exercised here was taking advantage when you’re in a position to make decisions or recommendations by having a goal, devising a strategy – for the long term and the short-term – and then gathering the resources to get you through that process.

 3.      What are the unique challenges in your environment, and how do you handle them?

The Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau covers a wide range of subject areas. One of the challenges is that there are so many matters you’d want to tackle, but then you run the risk of spreading resources too thin to accomplish anything. I think the way we handle it, and the way anybody should, is by being smart and strategic in what we take on and how we do it – what’s the real core problem, how does the issue fit within our mission, what are the potential solutions, and what’s the plan for getting there. Once that’s figured out, it’s about keeping on course. It’s necessary for any manager to establish priorities and stay with it to make sure you’re moving ahead and ultimately achieving those goals.