20 WAYS TO BECOME A LEADER
by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
A recent woman law school graduate might be surprised to find so few women among the leaders of the firm she just joined. After all, half of her law school classmates were women. And although this law school statistic is often reported as if it represents some dramatic change, the fact is that roughly 40% of law school students have been women since the mid 1980s.
Although there have been small positive changes, for the most part, legal workplaces continue to be sadly lacking in women leadership.
There are several reasons for this, perhaps chief among them, the fact that a "committed lawyer" is defined so that it excludes the majority of women lawyers. If "commitment" is mutually exclusive with pregnancy and motherhood, then the odds of a woman lawyer advancing to a leadership position are slim.
This definition also excludes male lawyers who want to be more than just financial providers for their families. In fact, any lawyer seriously wanting "a life" is at risk of being deleted from the potential- leaders list.
The best chance of changing this systemic obstacle is to tip the gender scales in leadership balance. As more women become leaders in legal organizations, organizational values and definitions are likely to change. The concept of the "ideal lawyer"  will broaden to become equally inclusive of women as well as men whose wives handle family matters. The inclusion of men and woman who understand that work and life are not a zero sum game would benefit the profession as well as the individuals practicing it.
As organizations move from mono-cultural clubs to diversity-welcoming institutions, one might expect that the "ideal lawyer" image would also evolve into one that equally includes lawyers of color and those of non-majority sexual orientation.
There is another reason to expect that fostering leadership ability among women lawyers will benefit the careers of these and future women attorneys, as well as the organizations in which they work:
Research on leadership indicates that 50-75% of organizations are currently managed by people sorely lacking in leadership competence . They are hired or promoted based on technical competence, business knowledge and politics - not on leadership skill. Such managers often manage by crisis, are poor communicators, are insensitive to moral issues, are mistrustful, over-controlling and micro-managing, fail to follow through on commitments they've made and are easily excitable and explosive. The result is low morale, alienated employees, and costly attrition. Since the best business outcomes are achieved by satisfied employees, the legal profession can only gain by an increasing focus on the development of attorneys' leadership competencies.
Women lawyers can take the lead in this endeavor. Here are 20 ways to become a leader:
1. TAKE CHARGE
Become the sculptor of your own career and life – not the sculpture. Leaders are authentic – the authors of their own lives. Take responsibility for your professional development. No one has a greater investment in your success and satisfaction than you. Especially as a woman, you cannot depend upon the traditional management structure of your organization to put you on the path to achievement. It's up to you to direct and protect your career and to develop your own potential. You cannot afford to be passive or to accept roles assigned to you. Know what you want and why and be prepared to take action to make it happen.
2. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
Work is most meaningful and satisfying when it gives us an opportunity to use our strengths. Leadership is fundamentally about character. Knowing your character strengths enables you to find ways to select work environments and work assignments that allow you to express and develop them. For example, if one of your greatest strengths is loyalty and teamwork, you'll be most effective and satisfied working as a member of a team. If fairness is among your greatest strengths, you'll be frustrated and dissatisfied without an opportunity to work on issues of justice. If you're someone who loves to learn, you'll feel bored and frustrated unless you find ways to master new skills and bodies of knowledge.
It's also important to keep track of your own accomplishments. Unfortunately, legal workplaces are notorious for focusing on mistakes and defeats rather than what people have done well. However, good leaders develop talent by matching peoples' strengths with work tasks. They recognize contributions and celebrate accomplishments.
Start practicing good leadership by keeping a log of your successes. Record even small wins – this is essential for building your own confidence as well as developing a crucial leadership competence.
You can assess your strengths by taking the VIA Strengths Survey at http://www.authentichappiness.org. Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist known for his research in the areas of helplessness, depression, optimism and positive psychology has developed this website. Since he continues to do research on the instruments on his website, you can take them for free.
The Gallup StrengthsFinder is another way to assess your strengths. You can learn about it at http://www.gallup.com.
3. CREATE YOUR VISION
Leaders are vision directed. A leader creates a compelling vision, is committed to this vision, and inspires others to action by aligning their goals with this vision.
Start developing this leadership competence by creating your own personal vision. Your vision statement is a picture of the future to which you can commit. It expresses your values, the contribution you want to make, and the way you want to live your life.
Without a clear vision, it's easy to be led by the expectations of others. As a professional coach, I can attest to the unhappiness of lawyers who've allowed the demands and approval of others to become their compass. It is heartbreaking to look back on your life with regret.
Your vision statement is your own personal "why." Knowing what you're working toward allows you to plan your professional development as well as to be resilient in the face of obstacles.
If you'd like a format for a personal vision statement, you can email me at Ellen@lawyerslifecoach.com with "Vision Statement" in the subject line.
4. CHOOSE A WORKPLACE WITH COMPATIBLE VALUES
One of the biggest mistakes many attorneys make is to accept a position in an organization with values contrary to their own. This situation leads to misery at worst, and job change at best.
Furthermore, you are much less likely to achieve a position of leadership in an organization with values at odds with your own ethics than you would in an environment that echoed your principles.
5. ESTABLISH YOUR OWN PERSONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Although the legal profession puts a premium on self-reliance, everyone needs guidance, role models and support. Old-style mentoring rarely exists in the 21st century legal workplace. Even if you have an assigned mentor, such "arranged marriages" rarely meet your most important professional development needs. It's especially difficult for women and attorneys of color to find mentors who identify with them or to whom they can look for time-tested strategies that apply to their unique challenges.
Establishing your own personal advisory board enables you to obtain assistance from several people. Each has a unique contribution to make to your career success. This approach also gives you an opportunity to seek needed assistance without over-burdening any one person.
In order to construct an effective personal board of directors you need to assess your learning needs. Identify the skills you need to acquire or improve in order to achieve the career goals you've set for the next year or two. Having identified your knowledge needs, you'll be ready to identify potential advisors. You can get recommendations from others. At the same time, observe people you'd like to emulate or those who have some special expertise in the areas in which you're interested. Look both within as well as outside your current work setting.
The people on your board will change as your learning needs change. Here are a few important tips for developing your advisory board:
6. FIND A CHAMPION
It's essential to have someone who will be your champion in the organization. Most likely, this will be someone with whom you practice. The more value you add to the practice of a senior lawyer in your practice group, the more he or she will be invested in retaining you. People who like you, as well as your work, are more likely to be in your corner. It's also necessary that this person be in a secure position in the organization; someone in a tenuous spot is unlikely to feel able to go out on a limb for you.
7. WORK TOWARD EXCELLENCE IN YOUR PRACTICE
Excellent work performance is a necessary, although not sufficient condition for leadership. Stay on top of your professional development. Don't wait for your firm or organization to offer a seminar in the skills you want to learn – seek out your own training opportunities.
Keep in mind the difference between excellence and perfection. Maintaining high standards for your work reflects positive striving. On the other hand, being harshly self-critical for the smallest error will undermine your success. Perfectionism easily leads to micro-management and harsh criticism of others, neither of which are effective leadership behaviors.
It's difficult to strive for excellence unless you're doing what you love. People who are committed to what they do – who are strongly interested in their work – are resilient in the face of challenges. Enthusiasm and passion motivate hard work. Genuine interest sustains focused attention.
It's important to know what skills you should be developing as you progress in your career. The ABCNY Report of the Task Force on Lawyers Quality of Life delineates specific training goals for corporate and litigation associates. You can find these at: http://www.abcny.org/taskforce.html
Look for Attachment C. For a list of skills against which to assess your progress, you can send an email to me at Ellen@lawyerslifecoach.com with "Skills" in the subject line.
The more knowledgeable you are and the better your skills, the more you'll be a resource to others. Expertise builds your reputation as a credible and trusted resource, which is essential for attaining leadership roles.
8. TAKE INITIATIVE
Whatever you're trying to accomplish, you need to take control of your own destiny and act on your own convictions. To become a leader, you must first learn to lead yourself. Initiative is a fundamental leadership competence. Choose your work – don't let it choose you. Seek out work you like or from which you can learn. If the work you really want isn't coming your way, make a plan to find it. Forge alliances with people both within and outside your organization who can help you work with the kinds of matters and clients you prefer.
Avoid the "tyranny of the in-basket."  You need to actively work on your career, not just on your work. Develop a career plan. Identify specific, measurable goals and routes for accomplishing them. Go beyond adapting to whatever comes your way. Proactively select and influence the situation in which you work rather than merely reacting to situations created by others. Work to change yourself and your circumstances for the better.
Leaders create a vision, set goals that embody the vision, inspire action to accomplish the vision, and develop strategic plans which lead to their goals. Start on your path to leadership by leading yourself.
9. TAKE RISKS
Developing leadership skill requires getting out of your comfort zone. Set "stretch" goals that enable you to develop new skills. Join committees and take a leadership role. This is an opportunity to develop leadership competencies as well as increase your visibility. Many women lawyers have told me that they do their best to fly under the radar. They believe that this demonstrates that they are team players. I disagree. You stand to lose far more by being invisible than you do by taking risks. In order to break through the stereotypes that keep women from achieving positions of leadership, you'll need to appear confident. That means being willing to learn on the job instead of waiting until you know everything before you take on challenges. Ask your advisory board and network to help you fill in knowledge gaps. Present your ideas. Be decisive and to the point. Speak in a convincing manner and make your statements strong and powerful. Claim authorship of your ideas. Don't qualify your statements or apologize for speaking. Be assertive, not aggressive. Manage your emotions when you set limits and make requests. Avoid harsh criticism and always respect the dignity of others. Depersonalize your mistakes. Just because you failed at one thing doesn't make you a failure. View mistakes as learning opportunities. If you become so worried about how you're perceived after you make an error that you never try again, others will conclude that you always make mistakes. But if you attribute your error to insufficient information, you'll learn more and try again. Your track record of successes will outweigh the memory of your small errors. Taking risks builds resilience and self-confidence. The more you stretch yourself and succeed, the more confident you'll feel. This will empower you to strive toward a leadership position.
10. BE OPTIMISTIC
As "purveyors of hope,"  leaders must be optimistic. Realistic optimists take control where they can and stop investing energy in things beyond their control. When faced with a setback, optimists don't succumb to feelings of helplessness. They maintain their focus on the larger purpose, finding ways to bounce back and pursue alternative routes to their goal. Optimists see mistakes as learning opportunities, not as catastrophes from which they'll never recover. This enables them to take the kinds of risks necessary for becoming a leader. Optimism is especially difficult for lawyers, since so much of legal work is about anticipating and preventing disaster. But even though pessimism may help you be more effective in practicing law, it will be an obstacle if you think this way about career planning or the rest of your life. You're probably used to thinking that optimism is just a personality characteristic and you either have it or you don't. But, the fact is that research has demonstrated that people can learn to think more optimistically and that these changes are enduring. If you want to learn to be more optimistic, I'd encourage you to read "Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. .
11. BECOME "UN-FUNGIBLE"
Find a niche which your organization values and about which you can be passionate. Develop your expertise in this area. If you are the only expert, or one of a few experts in this area, you'll be of considerable value to your firm. This increases your power to lobby for flexibility in your scheduling and opportunities to take on leadership roles.
12. MAKE YOUR CAREER MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR JOB 
Focusing on your long-term career goals enables you to minimize the power of any given employer. If your goals are incompatible with those of your organization, or if you can't get the support you need to make your vision a reality, look elsewhere.
13. DEVELOP YOUR SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE
Leadership is interpersonal. Effective leadership is fundamentally about how you relate to people. Social intelligence consists of several components: