Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
The only real training for leadership is leadership. Antony Jay
Do you want to lead? Do you have leadership opportunities within your work environment? Not everyone can be general counsel, but smart leaders are needed to head up projects or committees formed to address specific issues. These opportunities might not arise within the legal department itself but in a context that requires legal input. For example, the internal audit function may need assistance in drafting best practices for contract management. Volunteer to lead! Mind you, initially the projects that are available may not be the most interesting or high profile. But do a good job and the next time the internal audit department requires assistance with a project, you will be the first person they think of.
Many corporate lawyers desire to exercise their inherent leadership skills but do not have the opportunity to do so in their professional environment. Perhaps you are in a very large law department with a narrow job scope that does not allow you to reach out to other departments to take on project or committee leadership roles, or perhaps your general counsel wants you to stick strictly to “getting the trench work done”, thinking that you do not have the time to devote to any project outside the law department. So, if you are faced with the “need to lead”, how do you demonstrate leadership outside of your job?
Professional associations, community service organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, social clubs, parent organizations – all welcome people to step up and participate. Expect to earn your way into leadership. You may have to pay your dues before you step into a leadership role but hey – if you can just step in it’s not much fun anyway.
How does one find time to participate in anything “extra” given all of our other commitments? My advice is to find an organization that meets more than one of your interests. For example, in addition to leadership roles within the job environment, I have been blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve in a leadership position in the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. In this role (and the work leading up to the leadership position), I have been able to contribute to causes that are very important to me both professionally and personally. In the process, I have added a new dimension of leadership to my resume, a nice addition but not the reason behind my desire to be involved, more a perk than a goal.
More importantly, I have used the opportunity to help advance the reputation of in-house lawyers within the legal community, the business community, and my touch-points within the local community at large. I take great pride in our profession and I want it to be recognized as a net contributor to our world.
In carefully choosing one organization to which to commit my energies, I have met several personal needs: to lead, to give back to the community, to provide guidance and mentoring as well as real job opportunities for economically underserved young people, to develop my career, and to enhance the reputation of the in-house lawyer. I should add that my involvement with ACC has also been a lot of fun – it’s not all work! I have met some of my closest friends through the organization. While ACC cannot fill all of your needs, it is a great vehicle to tackle many of them.
So, if you yearn for leadership and find it difficult to satisfy this desire within your work environment, get out and volunteer in your community, wherever your interests may lie. As you develop your leadership skills, you will rise to the occasion when presented.
Always remember, leadership is not the goal, it is a result of being good at what you do and inspiring people to accept your vision and strive to implement it. There is always a greater purpose than being the person “at the top” of any organization. Everything you learn along the way will help you once you get there but, in the words of Sandra Carey, a contemporary leadership coach, ”Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”