May 2014 • Volume 102 • Number 5 • Page 212
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The Leadership Journey
Reflections on an exhilarating, exhausting year.
Time flies when you're having fun." That's the old saying, but time also flies when you're so busy you don't even know what time it is. As my ISBA presidency nears its end next month, I am shocked at how fast the year has flown by and equally surprised by how much has been packed into that time. During this year, people have often asked me, "Are you having fun?" "Is it what you expected?" "Are you glad it's almost over?"
The answers to those questions are not simple. Yes, I have certainly had some fun this year - I loved dancing on stage with ISBA girlfriends at my Annual Dinner, enjoyed interviewing folks for the "Two Minutes with the President" videos and all the wardrobe changes, and reveled in the torch-lit wine cave dinner on my president's Sonoma trip.
But there were certainly times when I was so exhausted or had to make such tough decisions that I questioned both my desire and my effectiveness as a leader. Those were not fun times. The reality that I was responsible for the best interests of 32,000 Illinois lawyers and judges was sobering. Or that I had to consider the working lives of more than 40 ISBA employees in two cities, or that decisions I made that day could have ramifications for years to come. Those times weren't really fun, but those were the truly important times.
Being the face of the profession in Illinois can be a heady and sometimes ego-swelling experience. There have been speaking engagements, photo ops, news articles, and VIP events. It also means you have to be "on" all the time. Those speeches and remarks have to be prepared in advance to be meaningful or humorous depending on the situation. Most of us aren't that articulate or funny without preparation. At least I'm not.
There were many times when balancing the roles of bar leader, law firm chief, and wife/mom/daughter seemed impossible. More than once I told myself I just couldn't do it, I couldn't write another speech or article or do another interview. But each time I would eventually remind myself that I was representing the ISBA, that I was the one who asked for this job and that I owed it to whatever lawyer or judge had invited me. I knew they were counting on me and trusting me to be thoughtful and give it my best. Which is not to say I was always great, because I wasn't, but I was always motivated to be great.
I was motivated because it was important to other people. Last year, I was honored to be asked as state bar president to give remarks at the Illinois Supreme Court's memorial ceremony in Springfield for the late Justice Moses Harrison. While I was honored, I was nervous. Not only was I speaking on behalf of the ISBA, but I was also being asked to remember a great figure in our profession and a human being who left behind a beloved wife and family. It would be personal to them - my words would be part of his legacy and their memories. Speaking at a memorial service could never be considered fun, but the satisfaction of capturing a person's essence and connecting with his family left me with a warm feeling.
Likewise when I was asked to speak on behalf of all bars at the memorial ceremony in Chicago for Justice John Nickels and Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, I felt privileged and a little daunted. How would I speak for everyone, and how would I give each one of these fine justices and beloved people their due? Again, the understanding that others are counting on you as a leader of your organization motivates you to deliver your best and be heartened by it.
In terms of what I expected for my year, I was prepared to attend many evening events and to set out a platform of goals to accomplish. Turns out that's the easy part. What I didn't quite understand about leading this organization was the day-to-day decision-making required to support those goals and to direct the vision of the bar as a whole. Thankfully, the ISBA has the most competent executive director of any bar in the country. Bob Craghead is a leader and visionary in his own right and has an exceptional staff in our Springfield and Chicago offices.
But they can't run things alone. The president is responsible for clearly communicating the tone and direction and being responsive enough to enable staff to execute on that direction. Section councils and committees need answers, task forces have great ideas with no budget, the legislature waits for no one, UPL issues surface, and members have concerns - a million small things on a daily basis that won't wait for a quarterly board meeting.
I also didn't realize how many e-mails, letters, and phone calls I would get during the workday asking for help, complaining about something the ISBA did or didn't do, or asking a question for which I had to find the answer. And as I noted earlier, I didn't know how many speeches I would write or rubber-chicken lunches I would attend in addition to the rubber-chicken dinners.
Those seeming negatives, however, usually had a positive corollary. I have greater confidence in my writing and speaking skills now. I've learned to manage my time better and set priorities. I have become better at delegating. I learned to say "yes" when someone had a better idea than I did and I learned to say "no" when a good idea just wasn't right for the time. I learned to listen to others and to make decisions. I learned from my mistakes, from the excellent skills of others, and from experiences where I had to stretch out of my comfort zone. Through this journey, I'm learning to lead.
Which brings us to the last question: "Are you ready for it to be over?" A part of me feels like I'm just getting the hang of this leadership thing, so I'd like it to go on. I've come to appreciate the speaking opportunities, the decision-making and meeting so many new people.
But I also know my family, friends, and office partners would like me back. I'm ready for new challenges. I've accomplished much of what I set out for my year, but there's more I'd like to do. And that's just it - there will always be more to do. Anyone who wants to lead this or any other organization should always feel there is more to do.
Next month it will be time to turn this incredible opportunity over to Rick Felice. Rick will build on some of the things I have started, but he has his own great ideas to lead and grow this organization. As I finish up this leg of my leadership journey, Rick will just be beginning his - and the ISBA will be in good hands.