When I first got out of law school, I went to work for a man who had a less than glowing reputation in the legal field. A very competent lawyer, he was however extremely poor with people, especially those who happened to work for him. Not capable of dealing with them effectively while under pressure, he sought to lead by aggressiveness and intimidation, but this never succeeded in bringing forth their best effort or inspiring any form of loyalty. For sure, people got their work done because they wanted to be paid, but they didn’t stay around for long because the cons of working there far outweighed the pros.
Of all the places that I have worked at in my life, I have never seen a turnover of staff like I saw in that office, and that speaks volumes about the type of work environment that this man fostered. Having to finish my articled clerkship to get admitted as a lawyer, this was the foremost reason for staying there as long as I did. Spending some sixteen months there, I found myself having to fight very hard against the temptation to leave. Seeing others come and go on a regular basis, I desired to follow them out the door, but I knew at a deep level that I would sorely regret leaving without having achieved the goal of admission.
As much as I wanted to respect this man and hold him up as a professional role model, I just couldn’t do it once I got to know him because there was no consistency to his character. Who he appeared to be to clients was quite a different person to who he was behind the scenes, and who he was with a lighter workload was far removed from the person he became when the heat was on. Very egotistical and self-serving with his demands, he was a leader in title only, who nobody really wanted to follow because he was hypocritical and disrespectful. In it for the money and prestige, he was motivated by all the wrong reasons that ultimately undercut his ability to be effective as a leader.
While my time at his firm was not enjoyable, having to endure these adverse circumstances did however bear fruit in a serendipitous way. Bringing me into contact with the man who was the inspiration for this entry, it allowed me to understand what a true leader in the legal context looks like. While working on one of the firm’s bigger cases, I served as junior counsel under one of the most respected barristers in the state. As attuned with people as he was with the goings on in the courtroom, he was not a man who egotistically demanded respect, but commanded it through considered action.
Everything this barrister did exuded class. From the way he held himself, to the way he treated others with importance, demonstrated to me that he understood what I am writing about here. I had seen this individual in both social settings and in very tense and chaotic work situations, and his calm and composed demeanour did not change. Who he was to me was the same person that he was to his colleagues and his personal assistant. Recently running into a friend who works closely with this gentleman, she also spoke volumes about his personal and professional qualities that she sought to emulate as a young lawyer. How wonderful to be able to have that impact on people, and inspire them by your presence and very example. This to me is leadership at the most essential level.
While we may be tempted to flee the kitchen if we are struggling to deal with the heat, acting on that impulse will not serve us if our intention is to evolve on our leadership journey. Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, so does our character prosper when we are willing to endure the challenges of life to learn its lessons. Character is being dedicated to the process of manifesting spirit in form, which is not always easy, but this is our task. Heavy lies the crown of those who were born to create and experience an ever evolving world.