Thinking About Leadership in Courts: An Observation by Roger Hanson

posted by Judge_Burke @ 21:01 PM
September 27, 2011

When I think of successful leaders I turn to the two professions over the 100 years that are most central to American life in the modern era. The are athletic coaching and the practice of medicine. We Americans have made sports our religion and deemed medicine more important than art, philosophy, or even economics. I suggest two of exemplary leaders in these two areas are Knute Rockne in football and the Mayo brothers in medicine. 

What do they have in common? These two sets of leaders spent as much time in the administration of the game and patient care as preparation for the game and actual patient care, respectively. Rockne designed the uniforms and helmets of his players.  The Mayo Brothers chose Dr. Henry Plummer, a scientist and inventor, not just a fine medical doctor to be a partner. Plummer was responsible for introducing administrative innovations in medicine still used today. 

The value of their choices is measurable. Take the Mayo Clinic, for example. The Mayo Clinic is renowned among the patients and their families not just for its diagnoses, surgeries and prescriptions. It excels in how the patients feel about their service and how they are treated.  Patients with ambulatory problems who did not begin their appointment at the Clinic with wheelchair assistance are frequently asked while they are in consultation with their doctors about the results of their medical tests if they would like some help. If so, a doctor requests wheel chair assistance. And no sooner does a patient emerge from the doctor’s office than a Clinic employee is where with a wheelchair.  There are guides and greeters on the main floor of the main building leading to elevators, walkways to the other hospitals, lounges, cafeterias, exists to hotels, and God only knows where else. Every doctor has a great bedside manner. All of this administrative attentions pays off because it reduces the high anxiety of every patient who comes there. No matter how many times I have been there since 1997, probably 20 times: I still have anxiety even for regularly scheduled examinations. What I might find out might literally kill me. 

Entering a court is similar. Anxiety is high even if you know you are going to win. And routine business still confronts the average person with rooms, floors, and people who are unfamiliar and therefore a little intimidating. 

Back to the Clinic. When you’re in the operating room, or the room where you are before they cut you up you notice tons of band aids, tape, and other material. So you see what you get when you throw money at medicine. It doesn’t all go into the pockets of fat cat doctors. And when you find out they are on salary and not paid by number of organs they remove and replace, you actually achieve a comfort level. The staff is working for you. And no patient is any more important than another.   The Clinic’s culture convinces all patients they are worthy of careful treatment because they are come to the Clinic because of medical needs. And they all deserve individual attention.

One way the Clinic creates this sense of equality is by the names of folks who have donated money for auditoriums, sitting areas, and so forth. The names begin with Geffen and Landow. You think ohmagawd I can watch a video in a room built by Geffen  or Landow. It makes everyone feel important. 

I won’t talk about Rockne as much because his administration is not as available to observe. But remember he was from Voss Norway and Norwegians invented the paper clip. And he used George Gipp to the maximum and was an impresario in developing inter-conference competition. 

My point from all of this is that it might be useful to discuss what makes for successful judging when many decisions have to be made either in the heat of battle where there is no option of taking matters under advisement or when confronting new statutes.  To me judges could learn a lot simply from observing an ER facility carefully or watching a NASCAR pit crew prepare. In medicne and sports a lot of work has to be done with no extra time and yet lives are at stake.

My interpretation of the Federalist Paper number 17 is that the reason administration of justice has no equal in positively affecting the minds of citizens is that a court can take away your liberty or your property. The executive and the legislature can make policy but in the end the final decision for INDIVIDUAL citizens is how a court applies that policy. How that decision is reached is nearly of equal importance as the decision itself.


 Roger Hanson is a longtime court consultant and author of numerous article and books about courts.  He recently was an Adjunct Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Colorado.

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