The week@work – leadership, lawyers, student loans & the economy

What makes a great leader or a great lawyer? What’s the best strategy to retire student debt? This week@work surveys articles that provide some answers, and as the economy continues to strengthen, offers some practical advice on career advancement.

Joshua Rothman wrote ‘Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry rules’ for The New Yorker. He gives us a quick tutorial on the history of leadership, why we value the concept, but are so often disappointed in the people. He alludes to the current presidential contest, and then focuses on change in both our expectations of leaders, and the roles they play in contemporary organizations.Print

“In recent years, technological and economic changes like social media and globalization have made leaders less powerful.

Leaders used to be titanic and individual; now they’re faceless guiders of processes. Once, only the people in charge could lead; now anyone can lead “emergently.” The focus has shifted from the small number of people who have been designated as leaders to the background systems that produce and select leaders in the first place.

Leaders, moreover, used to command; now they suggest. Conceptually, at least, leadership and power have been decoupled.

To some extent, leaders are storytellers; really, though, they are characters in stories. They play leading roles, but in dramas they can’t predict and don’t always understand. Because the serialized drama of history is bigger than any one character’s arc, leaders can’t guarantee our ultimate narrative satisfaction. Because events, on the whole, are more protean than people, leaders grow less satisfying with time, as the stories they’re ready to tell diverge from the stories we want to hear. And, because our desire for a coherent vision of the world is bottomless, our hunger for leadership is insatiable, too. Leaders make the world more sensible, but never sensible enough.”

The New York Times profiled two women who chose law as their profession and took divergent, pioneering paths to achieve success. What makes a good lawyer? Meet Kimberley Chongyong Motley and Damaris Hernandez.

David Jolly profiled Ms. Motley, who has been practicing her profession in Afghanistan for close to eight years and was recently the subject of an award winning documentary, ‘Motley’s Law’.

image.adapt.990.high.kimberley_motley_05feb2016_portrait.1454770287607“Ms. Motley, 40, a Marquette University Law School graduate, had never before traveled overseas when she enrolled in a Justice Department program to train Afghan lawyers and flew to one of the world’s more dangerous places.

After her nine-month assignment, she did not return home to Milwaukee, instead hanging out her own shingle in Kabul. She studied Shariah, the Islamic code that lies beneath the fragile new Afghan Constitution, and she established herself as the only foreign litigator in one of the world’s most conservative and male-dominated cultures.

Ms. Motley says she makes a point of closely studying the cultures of both Afghanistan and the courtroom. “I’m a sort of legal archaeologist,” she said. “I try to uncover laws that have not been used, and then use them for the benefit of my clients.”

Damaris Hernandez was recently promoted to partner at the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, becoming the first Latina to reach that position. Elizabeth Olson tells her story as a first generation college student, who advanced in her career with the support of a unique scholarship at NYU.

Hernandez web.jpg

That achievement is an acknowledgment of her talent and hard work. But the story of her route to the top also reveals how much more complex the journey is for minorities and women than for the white men who overwhelmingly dominate the firms. Skill is only one of the keys. Being able to navigate unspoken rules is at least as important.

“When I was the only one of color or the only woman in the room, I had the confidence to believe in my ability,” said Ms. Hernández, 36, describing the advantages of the program to her. “When you are the first, you need someone to have your back.”

Over the last decade and a half, she and 100 others who attended the New York University School of Law received that support from a scholarship program that paid their full tuition and also gave them access to a network of luminaries including federal judges, law firm partners and even Supreme Court justices.”

If you are seeking ways to reduce your student loan obligation, NPR’s Yuki Noguchi offers ‘Strategies For When You’re Starting Out Saddled With Student Debt’. It’s not just about individual liability, but also the long term impact on career choice and economic growth.

“Experts say studies show rising student debt is limiting peoples’ career options. They decide against graduate school. Or feel they can’t afford lower-paying public service jobs or the risk of starting a new business. That’s a problem, because new companies create new jobs.”

University Park campus of the University of Southern California

This past week the University of  Southern California announced a tuition increase that will bring the annual bill to over $51,000. Financing college involves loans as part of the  package. Having a repayment strategy is critical to long term career success.

“Chris Costello, CEO of Blooom, a personal finance advice firm targeting lower-net-worth people, advises his firm’s clients to tackle student debt with this strategy.

First, if your employer matches contributions to a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), max out on the matching contributions.

After maxing out on the matching contributions, pay off the debt with the lowest balance.

Check to see if you can qualify for loan forgiveness, refinancing or debt consolidation.

Do not incur new debts: in other words, live below your means.”

Chico Harlan of The Washington Post reported on the latest figures released by the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.

“U.S. employers continued their rapid hiring in February, new government data showed Friday, a sign of the nation’s economic durability during a tumultuous global slowdown.

The U.S. added 242,000 jobs as the unemployment rate held at 4.9 percent, the lowest mark during the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession.

That pace, consistent with gains over the last year, indicates Americans are returning rapidly to the labor force, helped by steady consumer spending that is bolstering demand and prompting employers to expand their workforces. In data released Friday by the Department of Labor, sluggish wages provided the only disappointing note — a signal that labor market still has room to improve.”

Two other articles of interest this week:

’15 things successful 20-somethings do in their spare time’ by Jacquelyn Smith and Rachel Gillett for Business Insider

‘How to Advance In Your Career Without Becoming A Workaholic’ by Lisa Evans for Fast Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

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