Leadership: we all recognize it when we see it, but its qualities are elusive in the abstract. Qualities such as good judgment and the self-confidence to act on that judgment, vision, moral character, compassion, drive, instinct, and charisma seem to lace any description of that term.
In the last 124 years since the Denver Bar Association was formed, we have been blessed with great leaders in our community. Many have led the Bar Association and many have directed other organizations in Colorado.
To get a better sense of what inspires good leadership, I asked some leaders in our community for their thoughts on leaders and leadership.
Mark Fogg: For me, leadership is foremost the creative ability to help formulate a shared vision collaboratively of what goals are important to accomplish. I think this is the most challenging and enjoyable part of leadership because you accept and appreciate all of the diverse perspectives that others can bring to solving a problem or achieving a goal. A leader helps channel that energy. I always try to surround myself with people who are smarter, who have different perspectives and who have different skill sets than I do. Recruiting and encouraging people to see your vision like you do may make you a good manager, but energizing people to see the vision from their perspectives makes you a good leader. I also think you have to inspire others with boundless energy. Certainly inspiration can take many forms such as perspiration, time, intensity, creativity or thoughtfulness, but people have to see you are committed. Finally, it all comes down to relationship building. Those relatively easy things we do to assist colleagues during our career are long remembered and appreciated.
Mark Fogg is General Counsel at COPIC and has held numerous leadership positions with the Bar, including President of both the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations.
Leaders are made and not born. We would like to think that if someone has the “right stuff” he or she will naturally rise to the top. But the capacity to lead does not guarantee that you will actually do it. You may need the will and commitment to change in order to develop your potential. Effective leaders are not people with an interest in proving themselves. I agree with the business guru who says that becoming an effective leader is part of the process of becoming an integrated human being.
To be an effective leader, you have to be able to get the most out of the people you are leading in a way that maximizes your own goals and vision not only for the organization (which is key) but also for the task at hand. This includes incredible self-knowledge, vision and ability to communicate to all different types of people. You have to have technical competence, of course, but you also need people skills, conceptual skills (imagination and creativity), judgment and integrity. From a practical standpoint, you need the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, personal and professional.
I agree with the politician who said that “you can get anything done here [Washington D.C./Congress] if you don’t care who gets the credit.” I believe that wholeheartedly.
As lawyers, we are taught to think in a linear, logical fashion, but being a leader of a bar association requires the ability to respond to predictable events, yes, but also—and importantly— to unexpected and ambiguous events.
Our profession continues to change, bar association demographics continue to change, so what makes us relevant continues to change.
Hon. Elizabeth Starrs is a judge in the Denver District Court, has served as a leader in numerous positions with both the DBA and CBA. Judge Starrs was one of the earliest female attorneys to break through the glass ceilings of many organizations that she served. She has served as President of the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations.
Pilar Rodarte: Leadership does not exist in a vacuum, but rather as part of a community. A leader must immerse herself in a social ecosystem, become familiar with its needs, and choose to meet those needs with passion and the overall goal of bettering the system. I feel each of these steps is challenging in its own right and may take years to accomplish. As a new attorney, I am at the stage where I am becoming familiar with my community, legal and otherwise, and figuring out my place in it. At first, I had an abundance of passion to do something great with my bar license. However, I needed to take a step back and decide where best to put that passion to work. This meant connecting with other attorneys, reaching out to mentors, listening to the advice judges have to offer, and deciphering the meaning of being an effective advocate for my clients—all of which have been facilitated through my bar association membership. It is this idea of passion for the community and moving the legal profession forward, that I hope will produce a fruitful life of leadership.
Pilar Rodarte is a young lawyer in private solo practice and is among the newest members of the Board of Governors, representing the Denver Bar Association.
Dale Harris: Don Stubbs was a quintessential leader. A quiet, gentle and gracious man, Don led by example, not by proclamation. He instinctively connected with and inspired others to follow his lead. Like all good leaders, Don was focused, decisive and willing to make difficult decisions. But he was much more than that. To me, the secret of his success was the way he made the rest of us know that we were important members of the team. He did it in many little ways. He always took the time to explain how our particular job was important to the overall mission of the team. He asked for our input and respected it. His door was always open. He was generous with his praise and never failed to give a pat on the back for a job well done. When necessary, he criticized us but always constructively and never publicly. He was sensitive to our personal needs and struggles, and he never asked us to do something or make personal sacrifices that he was not willing to do or make himself. Looking back on it, Don’s leadership style was magical in its simplicity and it still stands as an example for those who aspire to be great leaders.
Dale Harris is a former partner—now Special Counsel—at Davis, Graham & Stubbs. For years, Dale has been a leader and mentor within the Denver Bar Association and within the legal community, serving both as President of the DBA and CBA.
Dana Collier-Smith: Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing a lot of leaders in action at the CBA/DBA. Although many of these leaders have held officer positions, there are also countless members who are strong leaders behind the scenes. They all have different styles and approaches to leadership, some more successful than others, but I have no doubt that these leaders want to leave the associations stronger than when they started.
One of the most powerful traits of a great leader is when she/he “checks their ego at the door.” By acknowledging that they are working with equally talented and accomplished people, these leaders can focus on the task at hand rather than whose credentials are more impressive. I have seen many times when leaders with great ideas have been shut down because their egos were off-putting to others. Other traits that successful leaders exhibit include: the ability to truly listen; to run efficient and effective meetings; to be inclusive so everyone’s voice is heard; to delegate so others become vested in the process; and the willingness to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. Last, but not least, great leaders have fun. As they say, life is too short to not have fun! It is an honor to work with amazing lawyers who choose to be leaders within the bar associations and the profession.
Dana Collier-Smith has served with the CBA/DBA staff for more than thirty-eight years and is presently the Assistant Executive Director of both the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations. She was instrumental in forming COBALT, the CBA’s Leadership Training Program.
Mike O’Donnell: During my legal career, I have been blessed to observe many great leaders in the form of colleagues and clients. Leadership in professional services and firms is more horizontal and non-hierarchical than in corporations and government. I believe the qualities of a successful law firm leader include: 1) Passion for your clients, colleagues and mission; 2) Inspire and motivate others to excel and realize their full potential; 3) Collaborative—“we” not “I”; 4) Authentic and genuine behavior and confidence; 5) Vision of the future and necessary change; 6) Empathetic and selfless attitude; 7) Trustworthy with strong values; and 8) Integrity—do the right thing in a smart way.
Mike O’Donnell is the Chair of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell and among his many leadership positions during his career, he serves as a Regent of the American College of Trial Lawyers.