Monday, October 1, 2012
Leadership Inspiration from the Supreme Court
Do you know what happens on the first Monday in October? A term of the US Supreme Court begins each year on the first Monday in October. So, to commemorate the start of another term, I would like to share some leadership insights gained from the Supreme Court.
When we think about the qualities that characterize a leader, we often create a list that includes charisma, vision, and strength. But behind every leader are followers or employees, and it is also important to consider the qualities that the leader instills in these followers, such as, loyalty, motivation, and dedication.
However, for someone to be an effective leader, he or she must be extraordinary at the core of his or her spirit – capable of overcoming extreme odds, capable of seeing much more than a quick fix to a fleeting crisis, and above all else, capable of inspiring followers to join together to achieve a common goal or aspire to become better individuals. Sandra Day O’Connor represents the epitome of this most extraordinary type of leader.
Sandra Day O’Connor, who would become the first female member of the US Supreme Court, was born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas. She attended Stanford University, where she earned a BA Degree in economics followed by a law degree. She also served on the Stanford Law Review. In December 1952, she married John Jay O’Connor, and they had three sons. She was married for 55 years until John’s death in 2009.
In spite of Sandra Day O’Connor’s accomplishments during law school, no law firm in California would hire her due to her gender. One law firm offered her a job as a legal secretary – which she refused. Instead, she dedicated herself to public service and accepted a position as Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo County in California. She also worked in Germany as a civilian attorney and practiced law in Arizona. In 1969, she was appointed to the Arizona State Senate and re-elected twice. In 1975, she was elected judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals by Governor Bruce Babbitt. During Sandra’s time in the Arizona state government, she served in all three of its branches.
Ronald Reagan made a pledge during his 1980 presidential campaign that, if elected, he would appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court, and on July 7, 1981, he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor as an Associate Justice. Pro-life and religious groups bitterly opposed the nomination because they feared O’Connor was pro-abortion. But on September 21, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed by the US Senate with a vote of 99-0.
During her tenure as a Justice, O’Connor was known to review cases on an individual basis, which placed her in the center of the court and drew both criticism and praise. She retired from the court in January 2006, and in August 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States, by President Barack Obama.
What makes Sandra Day O’Connor a great leader? While she was not a CEO or a Fortune 500 corporate president, she demonstrated leadership traits on a daily basis. She set goals and accomplished them. She taught, and she learned. She created a team and led. She took criticism and gave credit. She listened and spoke. She inspired and was inspiring. The truth is, there are not many who would hold our heads high if we had been in Sandra Day O’Connor’s shoes when she could not find a job as a lawyer. Instead of shouting about the unfairness of the situation, she looked for another option, an option that would yield great results once she proved herself: public service.
So, the question should not be what makes Sandra Day O’Connor a great leader. Instead, we should ask ourselves, how can we apply her leadership qualities and examples to our businesses and everyday lives?
Posted by Debbie Laskey, MBA