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Leadership Takeaways for Law Department Leaders From Hamilton

Posted in The Next Level: QuickTakes on LDM

Guest blogger: Stephen Roth is vice president & general counsel of Jewelry Television, a national jewelry retailer. The views in this post are his and do not reflect the views of ACC or Jewelry Television. He is also vice-chair of the ACC Law Department Management Committee.

In my last post, we discussed the runaway Broadway hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical,” and we enjoyed both its groundbreaking music and its leadership lessons for law departments. We’re now raising the curtain on the second act, and we’ll cover five more leadership takeaways for law department leaders.

Listen.

In “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Hamilton introduces himself to Burr for the first time. Hamilton talks incessantly about himself and what he wants to achieve. Burr pauses and offers him some advice: “Talk less, smile more.” This may surprise you, but I’m going to agree with one of the great villains in American history —at least a little — although I’d modify his advice to say: “Talk less, listen more.”

HamiltonIf you’re always talking, you’re never listening or learning. Hamilton was quick to trumpet his opinion. Relishing the fight, he launched verbal broadsides against legendary names like Jefferson, Monroe, and Adams. He thought he had all the answers (and many times, he did), but his desire to wade into virtually any political fight of significance — and his propensity for making it personal — made him one of the most polarizing figures of his age. Instead of throwing verbal bombs, perhaps we should try listening and working collaboratively, at least from time to time.

This lesson is particularly important for law department leaders. So often, we add the most value by being involved in the business by listening to our internal clients and guiding them through the legal thicket. We simply can’t achieve this if we’re always the ones doing the talking.

Hold onto your values.

As “Aaron Burr, Sir” continues, Hamilton wonders aloud what Burr truly believes — if he has any core values. Hamilton later came to believe Burr had none and didn’t hesitate in repeatedly saying so. The result, in part, was their duel.

What are your core values? Do you bring them to your law department every day? I’m talking about fundamental things, such as doing what you say you’ll do, showing respect and support for others in your company, and committing to personal and professional growth. Take a minute and consider three of your core values. Feel how important they are to you. Recommit to them.

Stephen Roth VP & General Counsel Jewelry Television

Stephen Roth
VP & General Counsel
Jewelry Television

Keep going.

Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” is my favorite song in the musical (though it merits a salty language advisory). About halfway through the piece, we hear from Hercules Mulligan, one of Hamilton’s first friends in New York. A tailor, Mulligan collected British secrets overheard while taking his customers’ measurements. Mulligan sings a paean to determination and perseverance.

We are so often afraid that failure is permanent and mistakes are always deadly. Neither notion is usually true. One doesn’t have to look far in history to find examples of “failures” who rose from the ashes. Abraham Lincoln lost consistently as a politician before becoming president. Winston Churchill was written off as washed up after World War I. Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years.

Our takeaway? When we are hit hard by life, we get back up. Always.

Give me some (positive) attitude.

In “The Schuyler Sisters,” we meet Angelica, Peggy, and Eliza. They are walking among the students in downtown New York. History is happening all around them, with discussions ranging from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to the Declaration of Independence. They recognize the significance of the moment and appreciate it.

So often, negativity and pessimism hold us back. These personality traits are burdens that many lawyers carry. They drain us of energy and sap our confidence. And like a magnet, they just attract more of the same. By the same token, Pollyannaish optimism blinds us to the problems demanding our attention and robs us of the focus to tackle them. The right mindset? Realistic optimism, coupled with action.

I first heard this described years ago in Jim Collins’ business classic Good to Great, the notion of maintaining supreme confidence that problems will be overcome, while also looking those challenges square in the face. We should carry that state of mind into our legal departments and our interactions inside our companies.

Agree to disagree.

In “The World was Wide Enough,” Aaron Burr sings a lament after his legendary duel. Hamilton is dead, and Burr belatedly realizes just how much it has cost him. His days as a significant national figure are over.

Reasonable minds can differ, and there is room for more than one opinion. Our companies will be stronger if there is a spirited exchange of ideas, and we must be strong and smart enough to engage productively in the debate. Even if others seem unreasonable, there are ways to deal with them without compromising our own effectiveness. Sometimes, it’s as simple as just walking away or taking a breath before trying again.

The world is wide enough for all of us. That’s true in our companies are too.