Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
OSBA Leadership Academy
April 4, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Wednesday April 4, 2018, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center)

Thank you Mary for that warm introduction.

I’ve been asked to speak to you today about what traits make a good leader.

I will tell you what I have learned in the past 30 years but that may be too long for a half hour speech.

What I will tell you is this. I know there are common traits in leadership that I have learned through the years.

I think the most important is to lead by example.

Give people credit where credit is due.

Let others shine.

Be slow to criticize. But be quick to praise.

In these times, I feel it’s best to be a good listener.

Far too many people these days like to talk, rather than listen.

We see it every day.

When you become a leader, people automatically look to you for all the answers.

Resist the urge to always offer direction.

Ask your peers for their thoughts and demonstrate your willingness to take their advice.

You may be surprised how far that will go.

I also suggest leading with honesty.

I don’t like the term brutal honesty.

Show fairness and compassion.

And if you deliver a negative assessment, do so with empathy and appreciate the other person’s situation.

Exceptional leaders are naturally empathic. Their trespasses through times of great suffering have developed their keen ability to take-in and understand another’s perception. Never mistake empathy for weakness. Empathy is the most extraordinary Superpower. It is the one emotion that fosters an authentic connection between one human being and another. Showing empathy, demonstrating our own vulnerability and foibles can only be done when we are confident enough to be exactly who we are. It takes incredible character to remain silent in lei of lashing out, and to be gracious to those who may not deserve it. People of exceptional character shine from within, are approachable, willing to listen and always contribute to raising the morale of everyone around them. To be a great leader, we must come to appreciate all people. We must offer kindness to those who surround us and discipline ourselves withhold any judgement until we’ve walked a mile in the shoes of another, for each person is fighting battles we may know nothing about

Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.

Employ fairness and compassion.

Make honest assessments.

If required, deliver a negative assessment humanely and with a deft touch that appreciates the other person’s situation.

The easiest way to approach this is to think about the best bosses you’ve had in your career and to ask yourself what made them particularly great leaders. I’ve had the opportunity to work for a wide range of people in my career, and some of the best demonstrated some mixture of the following attributes:

Self-Awareness: Having self-awareness is vital for any leader so that you can build out your team with people who balance your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not aware of your own developmental needs, you may be more confident than you should be, and you may not realize the need for a particularly critical skill on your team. Do an anonymous 360 review with your team, and listen carefully to what it says.

Humility: Have you ever worked for a boss that thought he or she was right all the time, even when they weren’t? When you become a leader, people just automatically look to you for answers and direction. Resist the urge to always just offer direction, especially if you’re not entirely sure what the best answer is. Ask your team for their thoughts and demonstrate your willingness to take their advice, and you might be surprised how the culture in your group changes.

Curiosity: I try to surround myself with people that are curious about a wide range of issues. Leaders who immerse themselves purely in their business silo can miss emerging issues or opportunities, as well as connections with other industries. And, it’s way more fun to have a team with diverse interests.

Authenticity: I value leaders who don’t try to be one thing in the office, and another thing elsewhere. Inevitably, the real person comes out, particularly in times of stress. And, if your team senses that you’re not authentic in your words and actions, they’ll question whether you’ll have their back when issues surface, and it’s a safe assumption that they’ll start looking to move to another job.

Humor: Let’s face it: work is hard, and we spend a lot of time in the office. However, just because work is serious doesn’t mean that we need to take ourselves too seriously. Particularly when the going gets tough, a little humor can go a long way to keep the team motivated. Don’t get carried away in thinking you need to be a comedian; just be yourself. A team who laughs together will have lower turnover and higher productivity.

Overall, just keep in mind that being selected for a leadership position doesn’t automatically make you a great leader. Commit to building these skills, and don’t despair if you stub your toe now and then. Just admit your mistakes to the team, try to avoid falling into the same trap again, and work together on building a great work environment.

Empathy towards self and others.

Exceptional leaders are naturally empathic. Their trespasses through times of great suffering have developed their keen ability to take-in and understand another’s perception. Never mistake empathy for weakness. Empathy is the most extraordinary Superpower. It is the one emotion that fosters an authentic connection between one human being and another. Showing empathy, demonstrating our own vulnerability and foibles can only be done when we are confident enough to be exactly who we are. It takes incredible character to remain silent in lei of lashing out, and to be gracious to those who may not deserve it. People of exceptional character shine from within, are approachable, willing to listen and always contribute to raising the morale of everyone around them. To be a great leader, we must come to appreciate all people. We must offer kindness to those who surround us and discipline ourselves withhold any judgement until we’ve walked a mile in the shoes of another, for each person is fighting battles we may know nothing about.

Place courage over fear.

Exceptional leaders have developed mastery over their fears by training themselves not to regress under stress. They wear their emotions close to their chest, and prefer to place acts of great courage over cowering to their fears. To become fearless leaders, we must view hardships as tests which raise our basic levels of training. Fear is an adrenalized emotion. Any emotion attached to adrenalin puts a person at risk for acting or speaking too soon. To be great, we must learn to harness our impulses. Fear causes the natural narrowing of our mental focus, which if used correctly, helps us determine which elements of our situation are urgent and which we can wait to execute on. When we have the courage to stay patient and wait for our rational decision-making to kick in, we execute with more confidence.

Maintain and nurture their reputation.

The most powerful way to influence others is to have a solid reputation. Great leaders understand their reputation is their most valuable asset. People are drawn to those they love and respect, and who possess flawless levels of personal integrity. Great leaders are mindful of the extreme vulnerability their reputation is consistently placed under, knowing a solid reputation takes years to build and only one poor, thoughtless or selfish moment to destroy it forever. To be exceptional in our own leadership skills, we must do all we can to keep our reputations clean and impeccable. We must manage who we are in social media because once something negative we’ve done leaks out, it will be nearly impossible to ever live it down. We must always strive to be a person who seeks respect, honesty and the type of character others feel compelled to follow.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

More questions:

LEADERSHIP MEANS:

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

Share your strengths with others, whatever they may be.

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

Knowing your leadership style and what works best for you.

Co-opting someone else’s leadership style that you are uncomfortable with is a recipe for failure.

Find your own and be authentic.

EMPLOYING DISCIPLINE:

The first hurdle to overcome is to realize it’s OK to use discipline. Not only would I encourage to do it – you must do it.

How you go about it is important.

Do it privately. Ensure it’s constructive criticism.

be proactive, or at least don’t let the behavior or mistake linger.

With practice, you will realize when you should use discipline and come to understand why you should use discipline.

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. It 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.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:

Whatever interests you have, there’s a group for you. Invest in your community and work toward its betterment.

What happens when you fail?

View it as opportunity for improvement. Seek critique from others about how to do better.

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE:

Whatever you do, maintain a sense of humor. Sometimes seeing the humor, irony, or just plain ridiculousness in a situation will help your perspective.

Appropriate humor often diffuses a situation and can make people feel at ease. Take what you do seriously, but never take yourself too seriously.