Christina Miller is Chief of District Courts and Community Prosecutions for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where she oversees the office’s operations in the Boston Municipal and District Courts, manages the hiring and training of Assistant District Attorneys, and supervises hate crime prosecutions. Christina is a member of the BBA Council and Co-Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Section, as well as a member and former Co-Chair of the BBA’s Criminal Law Section, during which time she organized a number of BBA programs, represented the BBA on the Governor’s Anti-Crime Council, and contributed to the Boston Bar Journal. Christina is an Ex Officio Chair for the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association and served on its board for six years.
- As a leader, how do you manage frequent demands for your time? How do you prioritize?
I constantly triage what deadline is coming next, or the issue that is the hottest to deal with at the moment. I make lots of lists! I should probably learn how to say no better, but I don’t. All of the things I do are really labors of love, and that makes it easier to find the time to do what I enjoy doing. I particularly enjoy working with the Mayor’s Youth Council and the Boston Debate League through the BBA because I get to connect with young people in Boston and watch the growth of our future leaders. That excites me a great deal and really pushes me to fit in that time for mentoring and shaping the future of our city. I love my job and the work we do with District Attorney Conley in supervising young ADA’s, protecting the public, and ensuring justice is done the right way. I also love the work we do in the BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion section in trying to help those who are shaping the future of the legal profession. Diversity is so important to expand who we are so that the law expands with us, and so that we think in new and potentially nontraditional ways. All these efforts are truly important to me.
- Going into a new leadership position, how do you evaluate the organization’s needs and assess how you will help to make those happen?
You want to do a lot of listening to a lot of people. You have to view an organization as a whole being, and in order to know the direction of an organization or a mission or a new idea, you have to get a full scope of that being. That means talking and listening to the people who are on the ground, the people who have dealt with this issue in the past – while being careful not to limit yourself to their visions or old habits or compartmentalization of what they think it has been. But you need to know an organization’s history in order to shape the future, and you need to know everybody’s perspective and their roles – not just the roles they’ve been playing, but the roles they could potentially play. You want to assess strengths and fit people into the areas where they can be the strongest. Just because somebody’s not performing the way they should doesn’t mean they do not have value; it could be they’re not in the right position. You have to keep an open mind and conduct a needs assessment for the whole organization, as well as for individuals, and see how everybody fits within the whole.
And sometimes, you just need to step back. Often I think people come in headstrong with tons of ideas and want to implement their vision right away; this can be dangerous. You really have to get the full picture, which requires a step back to see, before stepping forward and potentially painting a new picture or adding to the current.
- Do you have any advice about leadership that seems counter-intuitive at first? What?
There are different types of leaders, and it is limiting to imagine that a leader is only a person who comes in and implements their vision. I think the best leaders know how to grow other leaders and how to share credit and bring up those who have grown, as well as fostered those who are struggling. Sometimes we get into a mentality where we think leadership is just a singular focused endeavor, that it’s just about the leader’s future and their ‘mark,’ but really it’s much more about being a servant – and that might be counter-intuitive. A servant-leader to an organization is a servant to its people and whoever the organization serves, and so we have to redefine leadership as someone who is truly at service and a servant to those whom they lead. It’s not a triangle or top-down mentality, it’s the mindset of, “we’re all in this together and all have different roles.”
You also sometimes need the leader who says, “This is what we’re doing, everybody get in line” and who makes the final decision. It can be the servant-leader, who makes the decision while assessing the needs of group – because they’re the ones who are going to implement it.
4. What haven’t we asked that’s critical to your conception of leadership?
One of the most critical aspects to leadership that I didn’t realize was important when I started to become more of a manager was confidence. The only way to get confident is do the best you can and learn from your mistakes. In order to make mistakes, you have to take risks and sit with those risks. If you’ve done your homework, risks become a little less risky; but ultimately, when the buck stops with you, it’s your decision. Through taking risks, succeeding, and sometimes failing, you gain confidence. The more decisions you make, the more you learn what you did well versus not as well, and I think it’s so important to recognize the value of that and learn from whatever comes after taking risks.
The other big thing is not worrying about what people think about you. Not everybody’s going to like you, so you just have to accept it and say “what I did, I did with good intentions, I thought it was the right thing at the time – and maybe it didn’t end up right or maybe it did, but at least I took the risk.” Be kind to yourself when you do make mistakes, learn from them, and move on to new growth opportunities.