This is not your parents’ book club; MBA roundtable series aims to cultivate the art of leadership

Issue June 2008 By Tricia M. Oliver

In an effort to grow and shape current and future leaders in the bar association and the community, the Massachusetts Bar Association has hosted Leadership Roundtable discussions since January.
Each month, leaders from across the MBA community are invited to exchange ideas and perspectives to grow together as a leadership community. The discussions center on books about leadership and organization communication penned by some of the most notable experts, including Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Peter M. Senge and Robert K. Greenleaf, or books that share the experiences and stories of leaders such as Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

The roundtables are the brainchild of MBA President- elect Edward W. McIntyre and Treasurer Valerie A. Yarashus. Last year, they brought the concept to President David W. White Jr., who quickly offered his support.

“Many of the readings concentrate on giving up control and letting others lead,” said McIntyre, who first began conceptualizing the program after he and Yarashus were discussing the DirectWomen Institute — a host of workshops and discussions sponsored by the American Bar Association that enlists a distinguished group of women lawyers to help them prepare for service on the boards of public companies.

McIntyre and Yarashus co-facilitate each of the roundtable sessions.

For an hour each month, attorneys’ thoughts shift from client fees, statutes of limitations and the burden of proof to the value of listening, how to be a better leader, empowering others and the importance of service. “At the same time that we hope we are enhancing leadership capabilities within the MBA, these forums offer a welcome diversion to improve social skills and revisit the art of conversation,” said McIntyre.

“What we see each month is quite remarkable,” said MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington. “I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve learned a tremendous amount about leadership from the perspective of service to others, and the development of organizations based on an understanding of the needs and perspectives of the whole.”

Participants’ satisfaction with the Leadership Roundtable series is attributed to more than just leadership principles. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know folks on a more personal level,” said John N. Affuso Jr., a member of the MBA’s Executive Management Board. He mentioned that what he enjoys hearing about the most at the discussions are the personal experiences that shape individuals’ perspectives on leadership.

 “Our interaction at the roundtables is very different from typical conversations at events. We really get to know each other in this setting and gain from others’ experiences,” added Affuso, who has found Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman the most interesting of the readings to date.

EMB member John Carroll is also thrilled to be involved in a network that he describes as eye-opening and heartwarming. “I’ve always enjoyed reading because it allows me to stop, pause and reflect. The fact that others in the group are doing the same results in a depth of thought that is quite enriching for all of us involved.”

Carroll is unable to point to one of the readings as his favorite. Rather, he feels each subsequent assignment is better than the last.

Robert Kerwin, Business Law Section co-chair, agreed. “This series is an opportunity to be with friends and to be introspective about your practice and being a lawyer,” said Kerwin, who explains that the flavor of discussions offers unique insight for attorneys.

He feels this experience has made him more cognizant of his approach with his clients, practicing law and leading others as a section council chair. “My wife is jealous — she wishes she had a similar ‘book club’.” Kerwin’s favorite reading so far is Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Ultimately, Kerwin’s experience has brought about a renewed admiration for the integrity with which his colleagues approach what they do for a living. “Today, the fact that we are competent lawyers isn’t enough,” he said.

The Leadership Roundtables’ list of readings includes:

• Excerpt/first chapter “The Servant as Leader” and Peter Senge’s afterword in Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness by Robert K. Greenleaf;
• Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin;
• Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee;
• First Things First by Steven Covey; and
• Presence by Peter Senge.