One of the best training sessions I ever attended was a multi-day Federal Judicial Center workshop in Gettysburg:  “Lessons from Lincoln.”  In fact, this seminar inspired me to make fundamental changes in the way I approached being a leader (more on that later).  In this workshop the faculty[1] used the administration of President Lincoln as well as the military’s management (both Union and Confederate) of the Battle of Gettysburg to illustrate key lessons on how to be an effective leader. The training was enhanced because it was held on the site of this pivotal conflict in the U.S. Civil War.  We were able to not only talk about decisions made by the generals, but also walk on the battlefield itself to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and results.

Here is a summary of the lessons learned:

  1. First, articulate your vision and values
    1. A vision defines the desired state you want to achieve, while a mission focuses on the present, with specific goals needed to achieve the vision
    1. The vision should be clear, simple, aspirational, and ennobling
  2. Communicate the vision, values, and goals early and often to inspire a shared purpose
  3. Have the courage to challenge the status quo
    1. Search for opportunities to improve
    1. Experiment and learn from failures
  4. Always maintain integrity and honesty (about the good and the bad) to build trust
  5. Make decisions that are timely, clear, and aligned with values and goals
  6. Enable others to act by developing team members, fostering collaboration, and delegating authority
  7. Do not waste energy trying to change people, but instead leverage their talents and strengths
  8. Show recognition and appreciation for jobs well done; celebrate achievements (always remember the maxim to praise in public, admonish/criticize in private)

That is a lot of lessons for one workshop!  For me, however, the biggest thing I learned was the critical importance of articulating a vision and set of values to guide my leadership actions as Clerk of Court. During the months after the workshop I did a lot of thinking and writing to do just that.  Now, it was not as if I did not have a sense of these things already, I just had not really refined and written them down.  Eventually, this is what I produced:

Vision:  We fulfill the public’s trust by providing excellent customer service

Values:  fair and impartial justice, integrity, public service, quality, competency, effective communication, teamwork, diversity, accountability, and innovation

I wrote short explanations of each of these values to codify and help explain what I meant.[2] The next step was to follow the second leadership lesson, communicate the vision and values early and often to inspire a shared purpose.  I did so by holding sessions on each value at our monthly staff meetings, and our office created this small poster to display as a further, regular reminder:

As you can see, this was not a simple effort.  As has been said, “court administration is not for the short-winded!”

What have you done in your career to articulate your vision and values?  I would love to hear from you about your experiences, and of course to receive comments on what I did.  Please do so in the comments dialog area below.  The rest of the Lessons from Lincoln outlined above are also very important, but I will leave them for possible future blog posts.  Meanwhile, I wish everyone the best as we head towards the end of 2020, a most challenging year around the world.


[1] Tigrett Corporation – Historic Leadership Training TIGRETT LEADERSHIP ACADEMY – Leadership Consultant using History.  I heartily recommend Tigrett for its experiential, history-based leadership training.

[2] I have shared several of these value statements previously on this Vantage Point blog — for example: Fulfilling the Public’s Trust: Public Service and Accessibility – Court Leader, and Fulfilling the Public’s Trust: Quality – Court Leader.  I will be sharing more value statements in the future!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s