As a court administrator I was proud to work through the ranks of court leadership and accrue years of experience.  Involvement with local and national court associations also honed skills. Since I’ve been doing consulting engagements, I have had reminders of critical skills not only for consultants but also for court professionals. This article recaps those skills and traits.

One of my favorite quotes is “business is one big act of improvisation.”[1]  In addition to improvising, it is beneficial to bring skills to the game.

Typical court leader functions and related skills (as identified in the NACM Core) include fundamental principles of the profession, competencies important to daily court operations, and talents for guiding and leading the court.[2]

  • Principle
  • Public trust and confidence
  • Purposes of courts
  • Practice
  • Caseflow and workflow
  • Operations management
  • Public relations
  • Educational development
  • Workforce management
  • Ethics
  • Budget and fiscal management
  • Accountability and court performance
  • Vision
  • Leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • Court governance

Court leaders use consultants to: add to existing knowledge, skills, and abilities in the court organization; assist in resolving problems; facilitate organizational action and strategic planning; or reengineer processes. Specific skill sets may include:

  • Exclusive topic knowledge and expertise;
  • Process evaluation skills;
  • Analytical and assessment skills and techniques;
  • Abilities to absorb, synthesize, and understand data and information; and
  • Proficiencies in communicating with a variety of players, including judges or judicial officers, appointed, elected, executive, and subordinate staff.

During consulting engagements I have discerned the following.

  • I do not have all the answers. My role is to have confidence in facilitating, discussing, and assessing the topic at hand.
  • Asking questions can be fun. It’s enjoyable to invite others to talk about their work world and allow clients to surface concerns for discussion.
  • Each court represents a puzzle to learn about and discover. Yes, all courts are similar, but each court has its own personality, temperament, participants, and playing field to navigate.
  • I need to identify whether my help is as a generalist or as a specialist. Generalists possess broad skills, knowledge, and experience in a variety of areas, whereas specialists have deep and extensive knowledge or skill in a particular topic. Sometimes I do not have direct knowledge of the specific tasks or topic and engage with those who have the deep knowledge.
  • Court leaders often have an instinct about what is needed on the chosen topic, but may need validation and an outside perspective. Another set of eyes may confirm, refine, and define the options and challenges, or influence and facilitate the path of actions.
  • I need to know myself. In the realm of personality typing (e.g., Myers-Briggs), individuals self-assess as to how they take in information, act, and respond to situations in the world.[3] My instinctive traits affect how I react during consulting engagements, and sometimes I need to adjust my approach.
  • Communication and relationships are universally important and often at play during consulting engagements. Communication and relationships need to be in a healthy and thriving condition.

What are my conclusions as a result of the consulting experiences?  I think these observations and conclusions apply to both consulting and court leaders.

  1. Link actions and operations to core court purpose and mission. In problem solving, the act of linking operations to the court mission, goals and vision – to the priorities of the organization – will strengthen the action.  It is also important to consider the urgency of need, and impacts of emerging or simultaneous changes.
  2. Know yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Consider whether your skills on the topic are as a generalist or as a specialist, and engage with others to assist you.
  3. Know your job and profession. Do what you can to learn about optimal skills, traits, and practices.  The NACM Core is a wonderful starting point.
  4. Continually hone and practice skills. Find ways to communicate and listen. Find ways to continually learn, both personally and professionally.
  5. Recognize the importance of “connections.” Cultivate interpersonal professional relationships, both internally and externally. Better to have rapport in good times and avoid calling upon it only in challenging times.
  6. Recognize that you do not have all the answers. Link to and use those who can help.
  7. Find enjoyment in inviting questions and deciphering the puzzle that a court represents.[4]
  8. Look for the positive as much as possible.

Consulting and Court Leadership Skills

  • Link actions to the mission

  • Know yourself

  • Know the job/profession

  • Hone skills and continue learning

  • Use helpers

  • Recognize you don’t have all answers

  • Find enjoyment

  • Be positive

[1] From Leonard, Kelly, and Tom Yorton, Yes, And (Lessons from The Second City), Harper Business, 2015.

[2] NACM Core Competencies can be studied at .

[3] For information on the Myers-Briggs Typing process, see

[4] I have written before about why and how court leaders should ask questions and still believe court leaders should actively ask about operations.  See also Cornell, Janet G., “12 Smart Questions Every Court Leader Needs to Ask,” The Court Manager, National Association for Court Management, Vol. 30, Issue 2, Summer 2015, available at . And I’ve written about the importance of court leaders being what I call internal consultants. Cornell, Janet G., “The Court Leader as Internal Consultant,” National Center for State Courts, Monthly Trends, March 2016, available at .

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