Start Where You Stand

Sloane Davis, J.D.
Hardwick-Woods Fellow, 2017-2018

When did you first recognize your capacity to be a leader? Did it take a defined leadership position or an award for you to perceive yourself that way? Are you still questioning whether others see you as a leader?
Many have a difficult time positively identifying themselves as leaders. For some, it may be due to self-doubt or feeling like they lack the social or professional status to “qualify” as a leader. For others, it is because they have never had any external recognition of their abilities.
Those reading a leadership blog are likely to be past this initial point of self-identification. Yet, similar pressures impact all leaders, especially when they are taking on new positions or new fields.
In working with the Institute for Professional Leadership on the 1L Lawyering and Professionalism course, we have developed various ways to help explain to students that 1) effective leadership is an important skill for attorneys within the practice of law and 2) they will be seen as leaders in their communities just by virtue of their profession, whether or not they seek such recognition. We then work on various exercises to help create self-awareness and to explore each student’s unique capacities for leadership.
What we eventually noticed, however, is that we often discuss leadership in the future tense. While we started with the worthy goal of helping prepare students for their roles as leaders as members of the profession, that focus eclipsed a discussion of their leadership opportunities in their current environment. This year, we started to make sure to encourage students to see themselves as leaders over the next three years—not just once they graduate.
Watching my fellow classmates walk across the stage during the commencement ceremony, I realized that we frequently set our eyes upon a defined status, role, event, or ability as the proper opportunity to lead: We get to be leaders once we graduate, once we land a certain job, one we gain more experience, once we make partner, once we get elected, or once someone tells us we can.
Part of this tendency is natural because leadership is inherently forward-looking. However, this future-forward mindset can keep us from remembering to “bloom where we are planted.” Looking towards the problems we hope to address one day can sometimes distract us from seeing the issues before us that we can tackle immediately.
As members of this profession, we all have a duty to be effective leaders, and that responsibility does not just fall upon the more experienced members of the legal community. My hopes for myself and my classmates are the same that I have for all law students, recent graduates, and young attorneys:
• We should be inspired and retain our vision for a better tomorrow.
• We should recognize our capacity for leadership and approach our futures confidently and ready to act.
• We should not see our relative inexperience as a barrier but as an opportunity to harness our creativity and work ethic to produce creative solutions to problems.

“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”—Napoleon Hill

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