As noted in the NACM CORE© on Operations Management[1], a court leader benefits from being knowledgeable of all facets of operations. Well, it may be rare that the senior court leader has direct mastery of all operational areas. Borrowing from the concept of being a “horse whisperer,” whereby an individual has a special talent and ability to discern things, this post offers actions for a court leader to be an operations whisperer even if they do not have full knowledge of all operational areas.

Four suggested actions will be noted (these are not all inclusive of what to consider):  know operations as best you can; keep communication lines open; use performance measures; and be a curious leader.

  • Know the operations as best you can. This may involve ensuring that a subordinate manager is able to keep you apprised about operational issues.  Or you may want to conduct an inventory of tasks to gain that knowledge.[2] A sample protocol is noted below.
  • Open and maintain lines of communication.  Find ways to have two-way communication with court staff, judges, and justice system collaborators.  Create ways to interact (have brown bag lunch meetings, invite comments and feedback) and focus on ways to engage with judges and judicial officers (drop by their chambers, invite their discussion on operations).[3] Consider the variety of open-ended questions that might be used, and some are provided below.
  • Use performance measures as much as you can. Become comfortable and conversant with using data about court operations.  Consider and measure activity that is coming to the court, and measure activity generated or produced by the court.  Measure everything![4]
  • Practice being a curious leader – one who is asking open-ended questions about operations. Be willing to make continuous inquiry about how the court is performing.[5] Here’s a sampling of good questions to consider.

In closing, we can recognize that rarely does a leader know in depth all operational aspects.  Accept that those limitations are okay. Don’t try to cover it up.  Seek to practice known leadership principles as stated below so that you can be an “operations whisperer:”[6]

  1. Meet and exceed the standards you ask of others. Be an example for others. Lead from the front.
     
  2. Make timely decisions.  Seek a solution that resolves 80% of problems, not 100%. Avoid perfectionist goals.
     
  3. Take responsibility before placing blame. Be inspiring through accountability.  
     
  4. Dedicate yourself to service. Take care of those you lead. Transform a group of individuals into a team.
     
  5. Think before you act and before you overreact. Be intentional on how you use emotions, influence and inspire others.  
     
  6. When faced with a crisis – aviate, navigate, communicate. Don’t panic or freeze. Keep moving, keep talking, and keep working to bring a solution to your challenge.  
     
  7. Courage + Initiative + Perseverance + Integrity = Success. Success is never about one thing. These combined four elements make success meaningful and fulfilling.  
     
  8. Don’t cry over something or waste sadness on situations and experiences that don’t deserve it.  
     
  9. Say you are sorry when you are at fault. Excessive apologies erode your credibility. 
     
  10. Always lead as you are. There’s only one you, so lead in a way that is uniquely you.

[1] See https://nacmcore.org/competency/operations-management/

[2] See Janet G. Cornell, “One Court Looks at Itself in the Mirror – The Bucket List Project – a Low-Tech Self Review,” The Court Manager, Vol. 27, No. 4, National Association for Court Management.

[3] See Janet G. Cornell, “The Organizational Immigrant,” The Court Manager, Vol. 17, No. 1, National Association for Court Management.

[4] A variation of this chart was used by the author in a course on accountability and court performance, presented in February 2021 by the Institute for Court Management, National Center for State Courts.

[5] See Janet G. Cornell, “12 Smart Questions Every Court Leader Needs to Ask,” The Court Manager, Vol. 30, No. 2, National Association for Court Management.

[6] Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, Leading from the Front, No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women, McGraw Hill Business Classics and Lead Star LLC, 2017.

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