The National Conference of Metropolitan Courts has obtained a small State Justice Institute grant to conduct a experimental six-month, telephonic, confidential group mentoring and coaching program for relatively new presiding and chief judges and judges who have been identified as “on a presiding judge leadership track” in multi-judge courts. The program is open to state and local general and limited jurisdiction courts. There is no cost involved for participants. The National Judicial College, American Judges Association, and National Center for State Courts are collaborating with NCMC in soliciting participants, providing advice and counsel, and evaluating the effort.
There will be two groups of 6 judges each. No more than two judges from any one jurisdiction may participate. A certified professional coach and a current or former presiding judge will facilitate each session. One session per month and per group will take place at a date and time agreeable to the group. Sessions will last no longer than 90 minutes and will be structured around a distributed agenda for each meeting. All participants must agree to confidentiality as to any issues discussed during the sessions. To that end, a confidentiality agreement must be signed by all group session participants, including the professional coach, mentor judge, and NCMC Executive Director (should he be involved in any of the group meetings) prior to involvement in any session.
By design, the nomination process is extremely simple to encourage participation. Participants may self-nominate, or be recommended by their court’s current presiding judge or court executive, their state’s chief justice or their state court administrator. All nominations and related information will be confidential. The program is targeted to begin in May 2013 and end in November 2013. Nominations should be directed to Gordon Griller, NCMC Executive Director, either by phone at 757-259-1883 or email at .
What’s the rationale for the program? Leading a trial court as a presiding judge is a unique experience. Although some states provide new leadership judges with cursory orientation programs to their administrative duties, most do not. The challenges they face are risky, multidimensional, and strategic; dramatically different from day-to-day judging. Many decisions embrace an element of danger by upsetting the status quo, presenting troubling news, and developing new, untested directions to deal with a changing and, often, uncertain environment. Resultantly, most leadership judges are left to their own devices and intuition in developing their leadership competencies. Frequently, neither succession plans nor educational opportunities are in place to identify and nurture future judicial leaders. On-the-job training is the common default among most state trial courts regardless of their size or jurisdiction. Trial court leadership difficulties can be especially problematic in large courts due to their complexity, high caseloads, variety and number of judicial officers/court staff, and, oftentimes, unique set of programs. Here, too, the impact of both good and bad judicial leadership can be more significant for the court as a public institution and for the community it serves given the facts that these justice systems are where the majority of cases filed.
What are the learning objectives? Monthly coaching/mentoring sessions are intended to harness the knowledge and wisdom of the participants in the group, guided by a skilled, professional coach and judge mentor who understand the nuances, opportunities, problems and challenges in leading multi-judge trial courts. Coaching and mentoring is not intended to give cookie-cutter solutions to leadership development, but rather give leader/judges better insights into five important individual abilities key to effective leadership, namely their (a) unique personal talents and how to employ them honestly and authentically to address the ultimate question posed to those in charge: “Why should I be led by you?” (b) sensitivities to and awareness of situational contexts that affect strategic initiatives that ultimately can help or hinder new directions and needed reforms, (c) ability to excite others with a vision of a better future and cause them to be great performers, (d) executive level problem-solving in order to apply either workable existing solutions or invent and adapt new ones that ultimately have the power to change attitudes, values and beliefs of the people who have the problem in the first place, and (e) ability to lead courageously by acting on principle, putting the interests of justice and the court first, embracing new knowledge and implementing change even though there is danger in doing so since it means changing the status quo where people are often quite comfortable.