Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation Leadership Institute
Sept. 15, 2017

Thank you Ms. (Sommer) Sheely for the introduction. I’m pleased to be here.

Thanks as well to the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation. I’m honored to be with you all today.

Women in Leadership is a topic that I have some familiarity with. Throughout my career, I have encountered some of the same challenges and triumphs that I am sure many of you in this room have yourselves.

I went to law school at a time when there were few women taking that path. I am one of only a very small number of women who have ever served as county prosecutor in Ohio. When I joined the Supreme Court in 2002, I was proud to be a part of the first female majority on the court.

So, I want to bring my perspective on the role of women in leadership to you today. And I want to talk with you about the importance of cultivating tomorrow’s future women leaders so that one day soon it will not make history when a woman serves as the Chief Justice or in any other important role. We’re almost there.

But first, there are some aspects that transcend gender.

I think we can all agree that being a leader means many things to many people. But, I would argue that there are a few common traits of effective leadership – despite differing leadership styles – that cross the gender lines and are worth pointing out.

Leading by example.

Leading through listening.

And leading with honesty.

Those who lead by example tend to give credit where it’s due.

They share the spotlight, and, in fact, let others shine.

They are slow to criticize – yet quick to praise, especially in public.

Being a good listener also demonstrates a capacity for and an appreciation of leadership.

After all, a leader who doesn’t have all the facts cannot make an informed decision.
Effective leadership means hearing the pros and cons of an idea, even when the cons are the last thing you want to hear.

An honest leader also employs fairness and compassion.

It means making honest assessments.

And, if required, delivering a negative assessment humanely and with a deft touch that appreciates the other person’s situation.

Leadership also means knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

Know your leadership style and what works best for you.

As a leader there will be times when you fail to lead.

You will assess your own performance and determine that you came up short.

Those times are opportunities for you to improve.

Ask others to critique how you handled the situation and how you could have done better.

Share your strengths with others, whatever they may be.

Improve on your weaknesses, or hire employees to fill those gaps.

 

These principles are what I have learned from 30 years in various leadership positions. And they apply whether you wear a skirt or a suit and tie.

Employing discipline:

Women tend to be reluctant to employ discipline to subordinates or to correct them a little

First hurdle to overcome is to realize it’s OK to do

Not only would I encourage to do it – you must do it

How you go about it is important

Do it in private

Ensure it is constructive criticism

Be proactive, or at least don’t let the behavior/mistake linger

With practice, you will realize when you should do it and come to understand why you should do it

Always learning:

Absorb what mentors and colleagues can teach you

Learn about yourself through the eyes of others

Learn as much as you can about your colleagues
Learn as much as possible about your business

Whether it’s positive or negative, there are lessons to be had in just about every situation

Serving as a mentor:

Makes an impact on you and the person you are mentoring

Helps that person avoid the missteps and mistakes you experienced to your current position

Think of how you would have benefited had you connected with a mentor

If you were fortunate enough to learn at the knee of a mentor, honor that person by becoming one yourself

Anything worth doing…

Excel in whatever position you currently hold

By doing so opportunities will come your way

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and seize the opportunity

To close, I thought it might be instructive to share a little bit about my leadership career path.

To be quite honest, it’s been more like a winding road than a straight and narrow one.
I’ve had to explore my leadership potential and develop my own leadership style even before those quote-unquote leadership roles materialized.

Obviously, my law degree opened many opportunities for public service work as a magistrate, judge, county prosecutor, lieutenant governor and member of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

I’ve served in all those roles, but one job didn’t necessarily lead to another.

However, each step along the way prepared me for another.

And, I was fortunate to do well at every step so the doors of opportunity remained open.

I also paid attention and learned from my mentors and colleagues.

So, I would encourage you to absorb what others can teach you.

Whether it’s positive or negative, there are lessons to be had in just about every situation.

It’s also important to excel in whatever position you currently hold.

By doing so, opportunities will come your way.

And don’t be afraid to take a risk and seize the opportunity.