What This Core Competency Is and Why It Is Important

Leadership is the energy behind every court system and court accomplishment.  Fortunately, and contrary to what many believe, leadership is not a mysterious act of grace.  Effective leadership is observable and, to a significant extent, learnable.  Academic debate about the difference between leadership and management has resulted in consensus that a difference exists, but it is not a matter of better or worse.  Both are systems of action.  In the memorable words of Warren Bennis,  “Managers do things right.  Leaders do the right things.”

  • Management deals with complexity.  Leadership deals with change and growth.  Managers oversee and use control mechanisms to maintain predictability and to ensure coordination, follow through, and accountability.  They know how to get things done.  Leaders think about, create, and inspire others to act upon dreams, missions, strategic intent, and purpose.  Courts have an obvious need for both management and leadership.

  • While leadership involves power and its use, at its best it is an influence relationship among leaders and followers that reflects mutual purposes and collective results more than hierarchy, and relations between superiors and inferiors.  Clearly, many can and must be leaders.  Leadership is defined by specific situations, contributions to enterprise-wide purposes, and relationships.

  • Leadership that creates and sustains improvements has an ethical and inspirational dimension.  Among many others, James MacGregor Burns in Leadership correctly asserts that “leadership exists, when one or more persons engage others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”  Court leaders, both judges and court managers, must work well in judicial executive teams.  They must influence and be influenced by others.

  • When circumstances demand it, leaders use power to guide the thoughts and actions of their followers, both inside and outside the court.  Often, however, followers don’t need or want to be led.  Good leaders understand this.   Leaders listen to, empower, and are moved by others. There is, however, more to court leadership than power, listening, empowering, and relating to others. Courts need leaders who at once create, protect, and maintain routines and take risks, question the status quo, and stimulate growth and change.  Courts that succeed have leaders with enough intellectual and emotional intelligence to resist unwarranted intrusions on established routines and relationships in the short run and to insist on change that interrupts established routines and relationships in the interest of improved court performance in the long run.  James Thompson, in his classic Organizations in Action, calls the necessary continuous striving for both certainty and flexibility “the paradox of administration.”  Courts need leaders equal to this challenge.

  • Effective court leaders create, implement, and nurture a clear and compelling vision for the court.  Leaders embody ethics and recognize and reward excellence on both sides of the predictability and flexibility challenge. Leaders model behavior courts need inside and outside the organization.  Leaders empower others and encourage their hearts.  Leaders understand themselves, work well with others, use effective group processes, and communicate effectively.

  • Competent leadership improves people and tasks, two key variables in courts and court systems.  Absent leadership excellence, courts and court systems cannot take or maintain effective action.

View the Summary of Leadership Curriculum Guidelines or click on each of the five Curriculum Guidelines to see the associated Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:

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