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President's Message

Leadership Traits Mirror Lawyer Skills

By Linda S. Thomas

Ever notice that many leaders in community and state government, social and religious groups, companies, universities and nonprofit organizations are lawyers? What is it about being a lawyer that makes leadership almost second nature to us?

Research suggests a common theme about what qualities – apart from our legal expertise – make lawyers worthy leaders. Skills and attributes good lawyers possess in their everyday tasks are the exact skills and attributes of effective leaders – good judgment, trust building, high ethical standards, vision, diplomacy and strong communication, negotiation, persuasion and conflict resolution skills, to name a few. Good lawyers, as with good leaders, lead by example with high standards and core values motivating others to succeed. 

People follow leaders who consistently demonstrate good character and competence. Various definitions of “character” include traits like honesty, integrity, reliability, kindness and generosity, and “competence” is basically utilizing the requisite knowledge to do something successfully. Not surprisingly, the OBA Standards of Professionalism, to which we are accountable, begins with “Professionalism for lawyers and judges requires honesty, integrity, competence, civility and public service.”

Not all “experts” agree on what effective leadership is but we all know it when we see it. People look to leaders skilled at things they themselves value, so it is no wonder lawyers are leaders in various aspects of our society. While technique and style may vary, these same principles remain constant across all generations.

I’m not saying leadership is simple for us just because we are lawyers, quite the contrary. While lawyers generally have the personality traits associated with leadership, leadership takes commitment, creativity, knowledge and so much more. I paint “leadership” with a broad brush. Leadership can be as complex as being OBA president or as simple as occasionally giving the children’s sermon at church. It may be demonstrated in a highly public arena or by reading to school children in a small classroom. Leaders, in my mind, use their expertise, knowledge and power to positively impact others. 

Commenting on leadership in the 21st century, Bill Gates said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” The OBA is dedicated to empowering our members to take on leadership roles in the future. Under the leadership of our own lawyer leader, Susan Damron, 23 of our best and brightest members have just begun their journey through the sixth Leadership Academy. They are learning professional skills that will enhance the way they incorporate service and leadership into their practice and their personal lives. 

It was the forward-looking vision of past presidents, Stephen Beam and the late Bill Conger, that gave the Leadership Academy the momentum that has successfully prepared more than 125 lawyer leaders, most of whom are now serving in significant leadership roles throughout their communities, our state and our association. The vision and core values of our past, present and future OBA leaders have strengthened our association to take on the enormous challenges facing bar associations and the legal profession in the future. Your bar association is in good hands for years to come.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 88 pg. 1948 (Oct. 21, 2017)