In a prior Vantage Point post I stressed the importance of mentoring relationships (https://courtleader.net/2018/06/19/tips-for-staying-fresh-or-dont-get-left-behind-part-one/). The best mentor I ever had was Rick Weare, Clerk of Court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Rick is a legend in the federal courts because of his accomplishments, not least of which was the development of future Clerks of Court. Whenever Rick would need to hire a Chief Deputy Clerk, he made it his goal to look for people who had the potential and desire to be good Clerks. In fact, one of the interview questions was “do you want to be a Clerk of Court,” and you had better answer “yes!” The proof of his success is the fact that six of Rick’s former staff members became Clerks in U.S. federal courts. The inside joke was that each of us were graduates of “Rick’s Clerks College.” Great leadership involves developing and mentoring staff — Rick always supported everyone to achieve their potential, even if it meant they would leave the organization.
When Rick retired a few years ago, he wrote out a list of important guidelines he had learned in his career and which might be helpful to others. He then shared Twenty Years of Helpful Hints for Court Administrators with a few colleagues, including me. These are profound words of wisdom that I tried to follow in my career, and I urge you to think about how you might apply them in your work, too. Here is an edited list:
- The most important asset in any organization are people.
- Hire people better than you are.
- Complement your weaknesses when hiring staff.
- Delegate – delegate – delegate.
- Mentor staff, you contribute to them and to the court system.
- Share credit — and don’t be concerned with who receives the credit.
- Be open, positive, flexible, and humble — don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Judgment, loyalty, and a sense of humor are the most important attributes in any person.
- Treat everyone graciously from the bottom to the top.
- Don’t socialize with employees; be friendly, but not friends.
- Stay in with the outs (and avoid internal politics).
- You can never have too many friends or too few enemies.
- Remember there are always two sides to every story.
- Treat everyone equitably and with due process.
- Always take the high road.
- Be honest, candid, and succinct.
- Consistency and equity equal credibility.
- Forgive and forget.
- Only fight the fights you can win.
- Change is the only constant.
- Always follow up on requests or suggestions; return all phone calls and correspondence.
- Always do what you say you are going to do.
- Communicate, whether orally or in writing, with the understanding it may be in the news (or social media!) tomorrow.
- Deal directly with judges (and not with or through their staff members).
- The low key, behind the scenes court administrators are the most durable.
- Chief judges and court administrators can empower each other.
- Court administration is a sport for the long winded – sometimes it takes a long time to get things accomplished.
- Recharge your batteries on a regular basis.
- In this profession, you can make a tangible contribution and a significant difference.
That’s quite a list! You may notice that a lot of items relate to how you interact with others, showing that relationships with others are absolutely key to one’s success.
What do you think of Rick’s “helpful hints?” What have mentors taught you in your careers? I invite you submit a comment to this post and share what you have learned.