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by Vault Law Editors | November 15, 2010


Last week, as part of the annual MCCA “Creating Pathways to Diversity” conference, the authors of led an occasionally rollicking session on “Leadership Lessons” for a packed room of (mostly) lawyers, all of whom were there to learn how to "maximize their leadership potential."

According to the authors—Marsha Haygood, Rhonda Joy McLean and Elaine Meryl Brown—the inspiration for the “cultural specificity” of Little Black Book (subtitle: “Leadership Laws for Black Women”) came about when they discovered that, of the more than 7,000 existing books on the subject of “leadership,” not one directly addressed the particular challenges faced by women of color. The authors, of course, were quick to add that their advice was applicable across all racial and gender categories.

Here are the Top 10 Laws of Leadership coming out of the discussion:

1.    In the face of hostility, stand strong, even if you have to stand alone.

Marsha Haygood related a story from her childhood that put the usual lawyerly travails into perspective. When she was 12 years old, Haygood and three other black girls were the first students to integrate their rural North Carolina high school. They did so under police protection against a hostile crowd. Eleven years after Brown V. Board of Ed.

2.    Be persistent: “No” means “not right now.” “No” means “try again later.”

3.    Never let a “Difficult Boss” distract you.

4.    Don’t be an ostrich: Learn everything you can about your company and your industry. Even “creative” types should learn about the nuts and bolts of business.

5.    Personal branding: talk about who you are rather than what you do. Don’t define yourself by your current job.

4.    Coaches aren’t just for athletes. (Shocker: Haygood is a career coach.)

5.    Don’t worry about “too many things” on your resume. Haygood exhorted the attendees: “Put some of that stuff together and call it something!” Everyone knew exactly what she meant.

7.    Take the high road in the face of conflict. “Don’t be sensitive.”

8.    Experienced workers: Don’t consider demands on your time a nuisance. “Wanting to take your time is the highest form of flattery.”

9.    Junior workers: When you need mentoring or advice, don’t ask your superiors out to lunch. Ask for 10 minutes and come prepared with specific questions.

10.   Listen to your Mama. The Little Black Book is replete with “Mamaisms”—nuggets of wisdom passed down from the authors’ mothers. E.g., “Always have your bags packed and purse at the ready.” In other words, have a Plan B.

-posted by brian

little black book of leadership

UPDATE: Vault's own Aman Singh profiled Rhonda Joy McLean a few months ago. Here’s the link to her blog post and here's the full interview.


Filed Under: Law
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