As Deborah Rhode observes, lawyers rank low in terms of perception as being honest and ethical, yet make up a majority of US presidents and half of Congress. Does the study of the law result in bad leaders?
There is also a mismatch between the traits associated with leaders and those associated with lawyers. Although what constitutes effective leadership depends on context, certain qualities are rated as important across an array of situations. The best-documented characteristics cluster in five categories: vision, values (integrity, honesty, an ethic of service), personal skills (self-awareness, self-control), interpersonal skills (social awareness, empathy, persuasion), and technical competence (knowledge, preparation, judgment).
Not all of those qualities are characteristic of lawyers. For example, they tend to be above average in their skepticism, competitiveness, autonomy, sense of urgency, and orientation to achievement. Skepticism, the tendency to be argumentative, cynical, and judgmental, can get in the way of what President George H.W. Bush famously dismissed as the \”vision thing.\” The need to \”get things done\” urgently can lead to impatience, intolerance, and a failure to listen. Competitiveness and desires for autonomy and achievement can make lawyers self-absorbed, controlling, and combative.
Lawyers also rank lower than the general population in interpersonal sensitivity and resilience—their difficulty in accepting criticism. Lacking \”soft\” interpersonal skills, they tend to devalue them and see no reason to acquire them.
Another problem arises from what researchers call the \”paradox of power.\” Individuals reach top positions because of a need for personal achievement, so they often don\’t focus on helping others achieve. If left unchecked, the ambition, self-confidence, and self-centeredness that often propel lawyers to leadership roles may sabotage their performance once they get there.