Over the last couple of years, this TED talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, about the paradoxical power of vulnerability made huge waves on the Internet, catapulting it to popularity as one of the most viewed videos on the website. By now, TED lists it in their playlist of “classic” videos. The talk focuses on the roadblocks to interpersonal connections created by shame and fear; the relationship between self-worth, courage, and vulnerability in establishing connections; and the problematic tendency to numb vulnerability.
If you are skeptical about how applicable this might be to leadership, consider this: one of the most frequently cited skills of a great leader is his or her ability to connect and communicate with others. In a recent forum through Inc.com, Brown translated some of her original ideas into a more pragmatic setting. Her target was to bust four common myths about the role of vulnerability in leadership:
Vulnerability is a weakness.
You can opt out of vulnerability.
Vulnerability means “letting it all hang out.”
A person can go it alone.
To read her explanations negating these myths, you can find the article here.
You may have noticed we have a live comment box, so feel free to sound off! Is this a valid connection? Does vulnerability have a place in leadership? If so, how much?
Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Probate and Family Court becomes Chief Justice of the Trial Court on July 16. She was a founding partner of Carey & Mooney P.C.
How did you develop your own style of leadership, and what experiences contributed to shaping it?
It has been mainly intuitive for me. My personality is such that I listen with empathy, and I generally try to help people find their own strengths. It helps to have a cooperative and inclusive leadership style. As a judge, I have learned that if people have the opportunity to be heard and voice their view, then they will have a greater ability to understand a decision even if it ends up contrary to their view. Also, I have always been a huge proponent of teamwork – I used to be involved with sports – and you learn that much more can be accomplished as a whole versus individually.
How can a leader most effectively foster cooperation, particularly with groups that might have conflicting interests?
This needs to be done collaboratively with all interested parties at the table with a real presence. That’s even possible in legislation. There was one instance, concerning the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, in which certain Article 5 provisions proved difficult to implement. Hospitals and nursing homes ended up on one side of the issue, then legal services on another, while judges and other lawyers were in the mix as well. At that point, I said that we have to try to fix this and get everyone at the table to help come up with a consensus. In the end, we revised the language for the bill and submitted it to the legislature cooperatively, as a combined effort. We called that ‘negotiated rulemaking.’
What have you done, and what can a leader do, to maintain an inspiring presence and motivate others in the face of difficult circumstances, such as inadequate resources?
It’s necessary as a leader in these situations to maintain a supportive presence, work harder than everybody else, and maintain a realistic but positive view. You also must ensure that people understand their own value within the organization. In Trial Court, it’s easy – the delivery of justice is such a noble purpose, and performing public service is a great motivation. Our judges, employees, and the lawyers who practice in our court truly help people each and every day. In being an effective leader, you have to let people know that you have their interests in mind; not only that, you have to mean it. Being credible and real is a huge part of being a leader.
Lisa Arrowood is a founding partner of Arrowood Peters LLP, whose practice concentrates on business litigation, employment disputes, medical malpractice, personal injury, and legal malpractice. She is the Secretary of the BBA Council and a member of the BBA’s Executive Committee. She is also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and is Vice-Chair of the ACTL Massachusetts State Committee. She holds a three year appointment (2010-2013) as the First Circuit Representative to the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
What leadership experience was necessary to found your own litigation boutique?
My litigation boutique, Arrowood Peters, is the second new law firm I have founded; I had co-founded Todd & Weld in 1992. So I had done it before, but I learned a lot in the 20 years at Todd & Weld about being a leader within a law firm. It was an interesting experience to be one of two female partners at Todd & Weld – for the first five years, I was the only one. There’s a certain understanding that comes from being the only female partner in a firm with a lot of female associates – you have to be a good role model and leader for women in particular.
That, combined with a lot of experience leading teams on cases that went to trial, helped a lot in setting up the new firm – especially learning how to organize people, how to get tasks done, and how to motivate others, among other things.
As a leader of other lawyers in volunteer organizations, what skills, qualities, or style do you consider crucial to ensure success?
I think this is true of leadership in general, but one of the most important abilities is to make decisions and ‘let the buck stop with you.’ In order to be a good leader, you need the courage to make those decisions, and sometimes that means you need the courage to be wrong and work from there. In a volunteer organization, something key to keep in mind is respecting the fact that all of the volunteers are very busy and have a lot of responsibilities, so being efficient and not wasting time is extremely important. Volunteers are giving very precious time to the organization, so it’s always important for leaders to be sensitive to that.
How do you establish credibility as a leader?
As a leader, you have to be willing to do some of the work and not just delegate, although good leaders do know how to delegate and are good at it. I am a firm believer that you can’t get everything done if you insist on trying to do it all yourself.
Beyond that, it often depends on the leadership role. For heading up a trial team, for example, where the goal is to win the case, people who work under you have to be confident that you know what you’re doing, that you’re going to do a good job, and that things need to be done a certain way because that’s the best way to do them – and it has to show up in results. That’s where people will see you as an effective and credible leader: when the direction you provide will get everybody to the place they want to be. Within the BBA or a volunteer organization, it’s a little more complex, because it’s a multifaceted organization with many different goals. That’s where it’s great to have an unbelievable team like the BBA staff to prepare and assist its leaders.
By now, TED talks are a well-established series known for insightful content, big ideas, and, above all, an engaging format marked by personal stories, humor, and captivating stage presence. It’s easy to soak in these brilliant presentations with slight pangs of envy and assume that their presenters must just be naturally gifted, but that is actually not the case at all – more than half a year of training goes into making each 18-minute talk a compelling and informative final product.
It just goes to show that, with a lot of work, great ideas can become absolutely transformative; what’s more, effective communication can be the difference between someone with one of those great ideas and a true thought leader – or, for that matter, any leader.
For those who want to learn to orate like TED presenters, Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED archives and one of trainers for the presenters, has offered TED’s tried-and-true techniques to the Harvard Business Review, summarized in this article by Upstart. Some of the advice is intuitive, while other suggestions – such as not trying to cram every data point into a short presentation – might be less so. Not only does Anderson highlight the preparation and knowledge required for every TED Talk, he provides readers with the basic skill set to hook an audience and make them think, a crucial leadership ability.
Of course, we would love to hear feedback on what readers think about these tips, or if anybody has anything to add that can make or break a presentation. Barring that – what is the best TED talk you have ever seen, and why?
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.”
Turns out the secret of success might not be hard work and innovation after all, you’ll be surprised to hear. Instead, you may just have to stop eating cauliflower.
This claim seems pretty outrageous to us, too – which is why our interest is piqued by a new e-book by Rohit Bhargava, author of the bestselling Likeonomics, called Always Eat Left Handed: 15 Surprisingly Simple Secrets of Success. Along with being a successful author – his first book is a #1 Global Marketing Best Seller – Bhargava is the founder of the Influential Marketing Group, a Professor of Marketing at Georgetown University, and an honoree on the 2013 ‘Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior’ list by Trust Across America. He has been interviewed by the New York Times, NPR, the Guardian (UK), and CNBC, just to name a few. In this e-book, Bhargava promises to explain the small lessons that can be found in seemingly arbitrary tips like avoiding cauliflower, playing the cello, and walking in high heels, which respectively connect to standing by your opinions, diversifying your knowledge base, and learning empathy.
Since we’re still not sure what exactly cauliflower has to do with opinions and are very curious to find out, we thought others might be as well. If that’s the case, you might be interested to know that you can receive a complimentary copy of the e-book with attendance at a webinar with the author tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Registration is also free – you can sign up here.
And in case you’re wondering, “What about the title of the book? Why always eat left handed?” the answer is, as promised, surprisingly simple: it leaves your right hand free to shake hands at any moment, so you immediately appear more approachable and open. Who would have thought?
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!