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[Page 2] Good bar presidents follow 10 simple rules
As the chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services, it is again my honor and privilege to share some thoughts with you regarding leadership. This is Part III in a series.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, I have observed many bar leaders in the past 30 years and this has caused me to try to determine why some are more successful than others. For you late night TV fans, here follows, from the home office in Raleigh, N.C, my best shot at 10 simple rules that good bar presidents follow.
#10. KNOW YOUR GOVERNING DOCUMENTS. How basic can this be? All bar leaders should be familiar with the constitution and bylaws of their organization. Frequently I have observed members raising an issue with regard to the constitution and/or bylaws with which the president was not familiar. Conversely, I have seen bar leaders effectively utilize the governing documents to help them govern.
#9. GET THE FILES FROM YOUR PREDECESSOR. Every person who is advancing to a position of leadership should check with the person who precedes him or her and ask for “the files.” I know there are many files in many offices that would have been helpful to many presidents-elect as they assumed responsibility had they just been passed along. If someone doesn’t ask for your files when it’s time to pass them on, just do it!
#8. ROTATE COMMITTEE CHAIRS AND MEMBERS. The strength of any association is new blood. One of the most significant responsibilities a good bar president has is to prepare the association for the future. You do this by developing leadership in those who follow. You do that by making sure that you rotate committee and section leadership responsibilities as often as you can, making sure that when you leave the playing field that there is not one, but more than one, or two or three, obvious individuals who have the experience and background necessary to lead the section or committee, or the entire organization.
#7. HAVE ALL COMMITTEES APPOINTED BEFORE YOU TAKE THE GAVEL. So many times bar leaders wait until they have in hand the authority and responsibility before they begin their planning. Good bar leaders plan in advance. Recruit those who will have leadership responsibilities under them and task them with clear goals and objectives for the coming year. If you wait until you become the leader to do this, three to four months of your term will pass before you gain any momentum. Your committees, your sections, and your leadership team should be prepared to hit the ground running when you take the gavel.
#6. GET UP TO SPEED ON FINANCES BEFORE YOU BECOME PRESIDENT. Not many lawyers I know like finances. However, what a wonderful training ground this is for those who will ultimately assume the leadership of the association. If you do not know how the finances work, where the money comes from, and where it goes, you will not be as effective a leader as you could be. Should the president-elect chair the finance committee? Yes! I know presidents-elect have a lot of responsibilities as they prepare themselves for leadership, but one of the important roles that they can and should undertake would be to chair the finance committee. This will force them to get up to speed on the finances and put them in the position of reporting to the board on the financial condition of the association.
#5. RECOGNIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF MEMBERSHIP COMMUNICATIONS. One of the tasks that soon becomes a labor of love is writing a column for your bar publication. Presidents often delegate this responsibility to others or write a column only when they feel like it. I suggest that there is nothing more important during your year than to communicate with your members. Do not miss the opportunity to write a column or send a periodic newsletter to your members. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—do not miss your chance.
#4. BE MINDFUL OF DIFFERENCES. Good bar presidents never say “you guys” or “gentlemen” when addressing a mixed group, or use terms such as “lady lawyer” or “five-man firm.” Good bar presidents never characterize lawyers only as “he” or “him” and they never refer to lawyer spouses as “wives.” Your sensitivity to these and other issues will signal to your members that not only are you aware of what you say, but that you value and respect the diversity of your association. And always apply a race/gender analysis to association decisions regarding leadership and appointments. One of the trademarks of your leadership year ought to be a renewed commitment by your association to creating an inclusive atmosphere for all members.
#3. DO NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL —GO FOR HELP. It has been my experience that “everything” has been tried before! So many times I see bar leaders trying to reinvent a wheel that I know must have been tried somewhere else before. Ask around; check with the ABA; contact other bar leaders in other states. Your idea may have been implemented and you can learn from others’ experience, both good and bad. Incidentally, along this line, my experience has been that all bar leaders are willing to share everything that they have with other bars. You have only to ask.
#2. DON’T TELL JOKES. It has been my experience that the risk one takes in telling a joke or a cute story at the beginning or end of a presentation is not worth any value that may be gained. In today’s world it is so difficult to tell a well-intended story or joke that doesn’t offend someone in the audience. I have seen a number of good bar presidents and bar leaders ruin an otherwise excellent presentation or speech with an effort to inject humor. My experience says don’t do it—whatever might be gained is far outweighed by the risk one takes in possibly offending someone.
#1. GOOD BAR LEADERS ATTEND THE ABA BAR LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE IN CHICAGO EVERY MARCH. Perhaps you did last year, or are planning on attending this year; if so, congratulations! And it’s not too early to plan for next year: Make sure your president-elect attends in March of 2004.
Well, that’s it from the home office in Raleigh. I hope, as basic as some of these tips may have been, that in context some comment will help make you a better bar leader.
I welcome your comments— please write to me at email@example.com. We will continue this discussion in the next issue of Bar Leader.
- Allan B. Head, chair, ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services, and executive director, North Carolina Bar Association.