Curriculum Guidelines Summary
What Court Leaders Need to Know and Be Able to Do
Leadership competency includes five areas which encompass personal characteristics and acquired knowledge, skill, and ability developed and refined through study, reflection, observation of others, practice, and, very importantly, experience. These five areas are:
All can be improved through study, reflection, observation, practice, and experience.
Character matters. Likewise trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, accountability, and ethics are important. By the widest margins, in every NACM survey of experienced court managers, these attributes were found to be both essential and in great need of attention and improvement. This squares with the research of others. Knowledge of one’s limitations, personal style, values, and one’s impact on others is essential. Leaders communicate policies and procedures clearly, honestly, and consistently. Self-understanding and personal credibility determine whether or not peers, subordinates, and outsiders will accept one’s leadership, especially over the long term. Effective court leaders are action-oriented and transparent. They say what they mean, they do what they say, and everybody knows it.
Survey after survey instructs that workers often, and perhaps even usually, do not know what is expected of them. Organizational goals, objectives, and responsibilities are seldom communicated. If there is communication, it is often done poorly. Purpose is missing. Motivation flows from perceptions that court work is important and contributes to worthy court purposes. There are no insignificant court jobs. Leaders align individual performance and broad court purposes. They create vision, establish action plans that flow from that vision, and with the help of others, clearly communicate the roles of departments and individuals in attaining that vision. Power and participation are balanced. Leaders think in the long term and focus their own efforts and the efforts of others on core court purposes and the need to transition from the present to an inspired future.
Judicial independence is an indispensable means to the ends of liberty, social order, due process, equal protection, and justice under law. But, neither theory nor practice should ever confuse judicial autonomy with judicial independence. The framers of our federal Constitution affirmed, valued, and reinforced the tension between independence and interdependency. When arguing for ratification of the Constitution in The Federalist Papers, they recognized concurrent powers and declared inFederalist 51 that “Every department should have a will of its own,” and in Federalist 78 that “…the judiciary… has neither force nor will, but merely judgment,”
System interdependencies place power and resources needed by courts in the executive and legislative branches. Operating and decision-making interdependencies with other justice organizations, the private bar, insurers, and, increasingly, public and private social service providers, among others, must be managed if even simple cases are to be resolved and disposed, efficiently and fairly. Court managers must lead beyond the boundaries of the court. Effective judicial leaders and their executive teams understand constitutional separation of powers, the adversarial process, and politics. They anticipate developments that will affect court operations and create and support coalitions to maintain routines, to produce just dispositions, and to make positive change.
Change and complexity demand effective court leadership at all levels. High-performance courts recruit, select, and develop their personnel knowing that thought, decisions, and discretion are best not concentrated at the very tip of the judicial hierarchy, whether at the level of the state or its constituent trial and appellate courts. Initiative is encouraged in the understanding that courts must leverage scarce resources, both human and otherwise. Innovation is not only allowed and encouraged, it is expected.
To inspire trust and teamwork, court leaders must understand group process and group facilitation methods and how, when, and where to use teams. Judges and managers, whether elected or appointed, model effective partnerships. What they do benefits and reflects the needs of others outside and inside the court and its hierarchy. They understand and practice “servant” leadership.
There is no one best way to manage courts or any other organization. Cookie-cutter solutions are impractical. Effective court leaders, therefore, value and use processes and skills that measure court performance and progress toward stated goals. They want to know and continually ask and seek answers to the “How well are we doing?” question.
Through use of Visioning and Strategic Planning tools and other means, effective court leaders use forecasts of future needs and conditions. They act on the needs and expectations of the public and regular court users. They analyze political conditions and anticipate developments. They seek and use hard and soft performance data. They have the ability to separate unimportant facts from important findings, trivial and self-serving observations from critical data, and insignificant readings from vital signs.
Click on each of the five Curriculum Guidelines to see the associated Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:
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