Big Ideas ALA Executive Director’s Letter

Leadership — It Never Goes Out of Style

As you may know, one of my guilty pleasures is shoes. No matter how many I have, it seems like new styles and colors always grab my attention. What you might not know is that I have an equal penchant for leadership tips and tactics. I am always on the lookout for some new ones I can use because it seems I can never have enough in my toolbox. I love taking on new roles and responsibilities to get out of my comfort zone, not only to try out these new leadership tactics but to also identify where my gaps may lie. 

April L. Campbell, JD

I recently came across a bevy of tips that really spoke to me. As legal management professionals and executive directors of many things, I think many of us fall into the trap of trying to solve every issue we encounter whether the person sharing the problem wants it solved or not. We get so used to giving advice to everyone that we don’t realize the damage we are causing and that we are actually practicing poor leadership. It doesn’t do anyone in our orbit a favor.

The book I recently found helpful is The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. (If you don’t have time to read the book, you can read the summary.) One tenet is that advice giving is an overdeveloped muscle while curiosity is an underdeveloped one. The tools discussed in the book focus on how to give less advice and be more curious. Some of the tools are familiar — focus on what you can control and practice active listening. It also acknowledges the consequences when those tools are not used and the damage that can be done.

That part resonated as the true leadership tip to me — many times giving advice leads to anti-leadership environments without the advice giver realizing it because they are solving the wrong problem, proposing a mediocre solution, demotivating the advice-receivers, overwhelming themselves,  compromising the effectiveness of the team, and limiting organizational change.

“But how can you possibly have [empathy, mindfulness and humility] as a leader if you are too busy giving advice and not pausing to be curious and learn?”

It makes complete sense, because we know some of the most important leadership principles are empathy, mindfulness and humility. But how can you possibly have those as a leader if you are too busy giving advice and not pausing to be curious and learn? I have always asked a lot of questions, but with the reminders I read in this book, I plan to start more conversations with, “What is on your mind?” and end them with “And what else?” and “How can I help?”

By the time this article is published, the news that I am moving back to being a legal management professional will be out in the world. It has been an absolute privilege to serve ALA as its Executive Director, and it was a difficult decision to give it up — and certainly came with a dose of guilt. However, I did make a decision that many leaders find themselves making — moving into a position where I can be my best self by making sure I am taking care of myself and my family while bolstering my happiness along the way.

As leaders in organizations, we more often focus on making sure those who are working with us have the resources they need and are put in the best position to succeed. We sometimes forget to take an inner look and notice when we have moved out of that position ourselves, whether that is physically or mentally. We may be good at a lot of things, but it does not mean we should try to do all those things at the same time — not until cloning and jetpacks anyway! I look forward to seeing you all at ALA events and in the Online Community Groups where I will be collaborating with you to tackle the latest legal management challenges. Catch you on the flip side!