For Women in Law By Women in Law

Leading From the Heart

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Leadership is a multi-dimensional task. Sometimes it involves decisiveness and making judgment calls that aren’t easy to make. Other times, it involves encouragement and leading by example. It can include taking care of what seems like minutiae, and doing tasks “under the radar” to keep the work flowing with an appearance of being seamless. Sometimes leadership seems like a tiresome and thankless endeavour; however, my viewpoint is that its importance should not be underestimated, and its value is often intangible. There are many ways to become a good, and even great, leader – especially if you’re open to leading from the heart.

A leader is usually defined and developed by way of personality, skill set, training and influence from other leaders. The leader’s emotional and social intelligence are important considerations for their overall effectiveness. As a woman, I have promoted what’s generally seen as feminine qualities in my leadership roles, in addition to the traditional qualities of leaders. I would not define any skills as “soft”; the ability listen, and use sympathy and empathy, and emotions, are human skills that are often the qualities of women.

I see feminine attributes as strengths for leadership. Showing your genuine, authentic self, without being self-conscious, is a quality that allows people to relate to you. Being receptive to others’ opinions, and showing support and understanding, generates trust. Avoiding judgment of others and being open-minded to continuous learning is extremely valuable. A problem-solving mindset, rather than a conflict-escalating one, will help your team flourish.

Women are tough and strong, and while they sometimes downplay these qualities, their inherent humility can make them more accessible to others. They need to show that they can be trusted in difficult times, and they shouldn’t hide just how strong they are.

Often using a sense of humour allows leaders to resonate with others. Struggling with common issues of the battles women have fought, and the perseverance they have demonstrated, to have the opportunities they currently have, is a bonding experience between the leader and team. Most men recognize the unique abilities of women, and their hard-fought battles in their careers, and support them fully.

As a woman, consider your workplace mission statement and core values, and think of ways that you will be able to lead and promote the mission and values. Be creative in your approach. As a junior lawyer, the power of networking with other women, either in your profession or outside it, will help form allegiances and mentors who will stand the test of time. There will be attributes of certain women, or men, which will fit your personality – but don’t simply copy what you see and hear. Develop your own unique approach as you grow into leadership roles. Listen to your instincts.

For me, family law suited my personality, and my interests in the human condition and psychology. I enjoy developing relationships with my clients, and being there for them during very difficult, and often emotional, times. My training and experience in negotiation and mediation translates into a skill set that allows me to focus on solutions in many of my cases. I have used such skills in a variety of leadership roles – outside law firms and within firms. I can’t emphasize enough that the ability to listen carefully, and not simply wait and prepare my response, is essential. Listening is an active process. Be known to be available and have a “good ear”.

It’s completely acceptable as a leader not to be tough all the time. Your challenges are something that your team often experiences and that can make you more relatable. We are all human with our own vulnerabilities. As a leader, checking your ego at the door, however, is vital. Be about your team’s members, your clients, and not yourself – that mindset will generate the best results as a leader.

What does leadership from the heart mean to me? It means using your intuition, trusting your instincts, and knowing that consistently adapting to change is not only possible, it is essential. Finding ways to accept the strengths and weaknesses of others, as well as recognizing your own, will encourage others to believe in your leadership. It means keeping your team inspired, and knowing that their priorities are important and different from yours. It means that you treat the issues of a junior lawyer or staff member with the same importance as a client or senior partner or management member. Leading from the heart involves the four C’s: cooperation, communication, commitment and collaboration. Being “right” is much less important than you might think. There are often many possible solutions to a problem. Everyone needs to feel that they are part of the team, and you should always be learning from your team without dictating to them.

Leading from the heart means paying it forward and being there for junior members of your team. If you make a commitment to someone, honour it, and do not cancel it, as it will send a message to the person that their concerns or issues aren’t important. Everyone to whom you commit matters. This involves the four I’s: keep everyone on your team involved, informed, interested and inspired. Leading from the heart takes a great deal of effort in terms of open-mindedness and being progressive, but the results are worth it.

Many traditional masculine qualities are found in women, but women should not suppress their own personalities and strengths to fit into an accepted masculine role model of success as a leader. Our abilities to manage many roles outside the workplace, such as growing a family, primary parenting roles, and caregiving roles to elderly family members, should be recognized, celebrated and admired. I would also encourage men to tap into their “feminine” side to find a way to incorporate “leading from the heart” in their leadership roles. There is no way to “program” leadership or success; it has to be developed by the leaders themselves, and the multitude of types of leaders should be encouraged. There is no one “right way” – so keep an open mind and heart – and you will figure out what works for you as a leader.


About the Author 

Author, Carolyn Lloyd

Carolyn Lloyd has practised in every aspect of family law since her call to the Bar of Ontario in 2000. She is a Partner at Lerners LLP and the Practice Group Leader of Family Law in the London, Ontario office. She has significant experience litigating disputes involving support, property, custody issues, and all legal rights that arise from marriage, cohabitation, and parenting. She has also completed substantial training in mediation and collaborative family law, and readily promotes and uses ADR techniques in family disputes when appropriate. Carolyn has also completed the required Ministry of the Attorney General training, including intimate partner violence screening, and is available to conduct mediations and arbitrations. She is regularly retained as family law counsel on behalf of her clients to represent them in mediations and arbitrations. Carolyn is a confident and experienced negotiator and litigator who focuses her unique skills on creating positive outcomes for her family law clients. Her guiding principle is to help her clients keep moving forward with a view to early resolution to their family law issues that prevents future conflict in their lives. She is a former associate/visiting professor of family law courses at the Faculty of Law at Western University. Her volunteer experience includes teaching conversational English as a Second Language to immigrants to Canada, being on the Board of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and is on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Lerners LLP.

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