By Lakeisha Mays
Nothing about the concept of leadership has changed to accommodate today’s unique challenges. The way professionals interact constantly evolves and presents new obstacles, as it always has. So, whether teams are engaging face-to-face or via video, leaders are integral to the success of any organization or business. Some traits of an effective leader are actively listening, seeking feedback from their team members, and incorporating others’ ideas—an inclusive leader.
In general, being a leader requires proficient goal-setting. Goals should be challenging but also realistic. A leader should ask themselves, “How can I lead my team in my most efficient way so that we meet and attain our goals?” and “How can I ensure 100% commitment from my team?”
Inclusive leadership takes things a step further by seeking all perspectives when formulating a team goal. An inclusive leader is compassionate, aware of cultural uniqueness, intrigued by new concepts, and eager to try non-traditional methods. They are also committed not just to the goal, but also their team’s support of it. Six signature traits of inclusive leadership are collaboration, commitment, curiosity, courage, cultural intelligence, and cognizance.
A current example of inclusive leadership is Netflix’s Homecoming: A film by Beyoncé, where she collaborated with several artists and musicians. She showcased the performers’ creativity and allowed them to freely contribute and express themselves in the production, ultimately leading to, in my opinion, the greatest Coachella performance of all time.
It’s not easy to take on a leadership role—especially as an African American woman working in a male-dominated field where African Americans only make up 5%. However, as a Howard Law School graduate, I was taught that it’s my responsibility to fill the social-engineer shoes of the great leaders before me. The legal field requires courageous leaders to speak up in the face of injustice and make a positive impact everywhere possible.
As an appellate judicial law clerk, the court where I worked got a lot of cases that were pending on appeal for at least a year. About half of these cases involve criminal matters, where the appellant is sitting in prison awaiting a response from the court or has served their time and is waiting to have their case reheard or sentence reversed. At the start of my clerkship, I made a personal goal to finish all of my docket’s assigned cases and ensure those affected would get a timely response to their appeals. Unfortunately, it’s not common practice for a law clerk to finish all of their assigned cases before their term ends.
The goal I set required the collaborative effort of everyone in chambers. I let the judge know my intentions, so I could be held accountable and to make sure my goal was realistic. I also discussed this goal with the interns to get their perspectives and provide space for them to contribute. I used the goal to educate the interns about common challenges appellate courts face and ways we can create change during our legal careers, no matter how subtle. I incorporated the concerns from chambers and listened to the interns’ feedback about their workloads. I also kept an open mind when we didn’t meet deadlines and made adjustments. In the end, I was able to attain my goal of working through every case on my docket, and I challenged my co-clerks to do the same.
As our communication channels change over time, inclusive leaders need to be courageous in the face of new challenges and inspire others by seeking out and including their perspectives along the way. I plan to use my clerkship experience and continue to be an inclusive leader in my career, tackling challenges head-on while encouraging others.
Lakeisha Mays graduated from Sam Houston State University (Cum Laude) and Howard University School of Law. While at Howard, she interned at the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Mays is passionate about environmental law and aspires to practice appellate litigation at the Department of Justice. She recently served as a Judicial Law Clerk for Judge Phyllis Thompson at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. At the time of this article’s publication, she was preparing for a clerkship with Judge Consuelo Marshall of the Central District of California and as an Associate at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington D.C. Ms. Mays is part of the Speaker Network at Envision by WorldStrides, participating with the National Youth Leadership Forum: Law & CSI in Washington, D.C.