Judge Edward (“Ned”) Leibensperger serves as an Associate Justice on the Superior Court. Prior to his appointment to the court, he served as partner at McDermott Will & Emery, where he had a national civil litigation practice, and before that as a partner at Nutter McClennen & Fish. He is a past President of the Boston Bar Association, and he currently serves on the Boston Bar Journal’s Board of Editors. Additionally, Judge Leibensperger has dedicated thousands of hours to pro bono and community service, and received the Supreme Judicial Court’s Pro Bono Award in 2010.
1. What is the most common mistake you notice in those seeking or undertaking a leadership position?
For those seeking a leadership position, a common mistake is not prioritizing the effort that will advance your goal. It may be that you are of two minds whether to seek or accept leadership. I suggest to anyone who might consider taking on a leadership role to clarify your goals and firmly decide to devote the time and resources to achieving those goals. Failure to be open and inclusive can also be a liability. In some of my proudest moments as President of the BBA, consensus-building was key.
2. How do you balance duties as a leader in a volunteer organization with meeting the demands of your other full-time work?
It can be a difficult balance. You may feel torn between billable time and volunteer efforts. But if you want to be involved as a leader, you need to commit the time to do the job and treat the volunteer position as high a priority as your billable time. Without this understanding, you may miss valuable opportunities to take on and commit to the right role.
3. What advice would you give to the head of a volunteer organization about guiding it?
First, find outstanding people to support you and put them in positions of responsibility. Cultivate an excellent staff and select dedicated volunteers. That’s the bottom line: find good people. Another thing I keep in mind – true leaders give credit to others when things go well and take personal responsibility when things go badly.
Have you ever found yourself wondering in the course of your organization’s forward progress, “What did we look like 5, 10, 15 years ago? How have we changed? And why can’t I remember any of this?” If you can sympathize, rest assured that you are in very good company, and that The Internet Archive is one step ahead of you. They have set up what they call their ‘Way Back Machine,’ an online application that allows you to search a website and view snapshots of its past iterations in all of their former glory.
While it certainly serves a purpose as a quirky gadget for the curious masses, this could prove to be a very useful tool for any organization seeking, for example, to collect data from the past, to put together a presentation or report about the organization’s progress, or to retrieve information that might otherwise be lost. The archive has also curated video, live music, and text sources free for perusal.
We suggest you type www.bostonbar.org into the Way Back Machine and check out what the BBA’s webpage looked like in December of 1996, a full 17 years ago…not quite the sleek look it boasts today, but definitely a first step in navigating the “information highway” – speaking of a throwback!
Deborah J. Manus is co-managing partner of Nutter McClennen & Fish and a member of the Firm’s Executive Committee. She focuses her practice on estate and trust administration and estate planning for high net worth individuals and families. At the Boston Bar Association, she is a member of the Trusts and Estates Steering Committee and serves as one of two representatives on the ad hoc committee formed by the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association to recommend proposed revisions to the Commonwealth’s current elective share legislation. She previously served on the Steering Committee of the Boston Bar Association’s Annual Law Day Dinner and co-chaired the Steering Committee for the Boston Bar Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting. Deb is also a member of the Boston Bar Foundation’s Society of Fellows and the Society of Fellows Committee. She is a member of the Boston Probate and Estate Planning Forum.
1. How do you facilitate consensus in the face of controversy or general push-back against what you’re trying to accomplish?
The first thing you have to do is really listen to what people are saying. This helps you identify the common ground– and define the real areas of disagreement. It can also be helpful to try to frame the areas of the disagreement differently: using different vocabulary and avoiding “charged” language can be very effective. It can also make a real difference to take the problem out of the ‘big room’ and talk to the parties involved one-on-one. People feel more comfortable being honest like this, and you can see where they’re really coming from and what really matters to them, which can make it easier to work out a compromise. If, as a leader, you ask someone, “Can you help me? I need your help to understand this issue,” people tend to respond positively — people like being asked what they think. Finally, always be respectful. If you are respectful of all sides, you’ll have the respect of all sides. In the end, you’re working on relationships, and oftentimes, especially within the same organization, the parties all basically want the same thing; sometimes it’s a matter of remembering that.
2. In your experience, how can someone ‘get noticed’ enough, or what can someone do to get noticed, in order to be asked to hold leadership positions?
To start, you need to show up to whatever it is you’re going to be involved in and really be there. It’s not enough just to be present, either: be genuinely interested in the topic, whatever it happens to be, and you have to prepare, prepare, prepare. After that, you need to participate. If you prepare enough, you’ll have something worthwhile to say, which will give you the confidence to participate even if you’re shy. Once you’ve shown that your input is valuable, people will start asking you what you think, or they’ll ask you to take on something. When they do so, you make it your mission to do an absolutely fabulous job; then they’ll ask you to do something else, and the cycle continues as you eventually rise into leadership.
In short, you have to care, show up, prepare, participate, and always do a great job. Another tip: always be yourself, because it’s easier to market the genuine product.
3. What have you learned in your progress as a leader that you would share with those just starting out?
I’ve learned that you have to let go of preconceptions of what leadership looks like. There are lots of different ways to be an effective leader – everyone has the ability to be a leader and everyone’s leadership style is going to be different. For me, the focus has to be conduct. A leader is someone whose conduct and behaviors make him or her effective at moving groups forward.
Mentorship ties into this. I have had many fantastic mentors and I have learned a lot from watching how they lead. My mentors taught me that leaders are great listeners, fair, devoted to carrying out “the mission” (whatever that happens to be), open to new ideas, consistent in their conduct in a way that inspires trust, and they have a vision that they are tireless in implementing. I also think the best leaders leave a little space for themselves. I attribute my own style, which is very consensus-based, to my mentors. It’s really crucial to invest in the next generation, and I feel like I owe it to my mentors to try to “pay it forward.”
Welcome to the BBA’s newest blog ‘Tipping the Scales,’ devoted to providing leadership insights and practical information to our readers. We here at the BBA have the privilege of meeting dozens of accomplished and talented leaders as they pass through our doors, so our goal is to bring their personal advice to a broader and more accessible forum.
Tips from the Top
Christine M. Netski is a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C., where she focuses on business, employment, and product liability litigation. She co-chairs the firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group and is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. At the BBA, Chris serves on the Council and recently co-chaired the BBA Law Day Dinner. She has also served as Co-Chair of the Future of the Profession Task Force, Co-Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, Chair of the Nominating Committee, Chair of the Boston Bar Journal Board of Editors, and as a member of the Annual Meeting Steering Committee. In addition, Chris serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and recently co-chaired the Women’s Bar Association’s Women’s Leadership Initiative.
1. What has been your greatest challenge in your path to leadership? How did you overcome it?
Early on, I was sometimes hesitant to take on leadership roles because I was concerned about overcommitting and not being able to devote the necessary time and energy to be effective. In a sense, I set my limits too strictly. I’ve overcome this by learning that if I really want to be involved in a particular project and manage my priorities well, I can find the time. Now I say “yes” to opportunities that I am truly interested in pursuing and that I know will enable me to grow in some tangible way – whether professionally or personally.
2. What is the most helpful leadership tip you ever received? From whom?
The most helpful tip I ever received was from my father, who held many leadership roles as a teacher, a public school administrator, and athletic coach. He taught me that above all, setting a good example is the foundation of good leadership.
3. As a leader, have you ever encountered team or group members who did not get along? How can a leader most effectively facilitate harmony in a group setting?
I have encountered this, but luckily not too often! When there is a disagreement in a group, it’s important to acknowledge the validity of the different perspectives and realize that underneath it all, it’s possible to find common ground. Sometimes, these sorts of disagreements come up because one or more group members are focusing on a different problem than the group is tasked with solving. It’s important to bring the group back to the central mission.
4. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities of an effective leader?
It’s hard to narrow it down – I would say that commitment to the undertaking, including the willingness to roll up your sleeves to get the work done, is critical. Another big one is effective communication, and especially the ability to listen. The ability to delegate is also very significant. Humility and a sense of humor help too!