Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Of Chairs, Politics, & Ego: Lessons Learned as Chair of the "Labor & Employment Law" Section.

I am Chair of the Orange County Bar Association {OCBA] Labor and Employment Law Section, one of about 12 sections in the Association.  I am also a sole practitioner.  Those two statements define the issue:  Can a man who is a committee of one learn to work with a large professional organization with a dedicated administrative staff, as well as the strong but tender personalities of the Section itself?  The answer is "Yes" and he can even enjoy it.  No one is more surprised than I am.  

I am basically politically incorrect and very transparent in my views.   Still, I think being so can be done with grace and kindness, and a certain civility.  I've been given numerous opportunities to practice these last 18 months, with 6 months to go.  Here are 3 of the many things I've learned:

1.  Professionals are the best possible volunteers.  They are smart, punctual, and committed.  They generally not only do what they say they will do, on time, but they take on responsibility readily.  I enjoy working with professionals.

2.  When someone who is capable steps up with an idea and readiness to execute it, affirm and support them, even if they didn't first kiss your butt for permission.  Be grateful they are advancing the cause of the organization.  It's not about you or you looking good, or being in control.  It certainly isn't about you getting the limelight.  If that's your goal, trouble and discord will surely follow.  

3.  Leadership is more about saying "yes" than saying "no."  Anyone can say no.  If an idea has potential flaws, say "yes, but" or "yes, and" but do not reflexively say "no."  

I haven't been in politics, but like you I watch the shenanigans in Washington.  People "position" and "posture" and "threaten" in ways that don't reflect their real positions, but that produce acrimony.  These are not just innocent negotiation tactics.  Cumulatively, they erode trust, and produce stalemate.  Our elected officials are basically decent people caught up in the routines of abrasive discord.  That is probably why most deals get cut in back rooms out of the spotlight so that the participants are less likely to grandstand.  If I could communicate a lesson to Congress from my insignificant little place as Chair of my organization, it would be:  less ego, less turf fighting, and more gratitude and recognition for the talents and contributions of all the participants, yes, even those of the opposition.  Start focusing on common goals and less on differences.  

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