I’m a Court Leader—Now WHAT? (aka “I’m a Court Leader—How Can I be Successful?”)

The Topic and This Subject

All of us are leaders, regardless of our job title: we lead work units, we lead projects, and we lead ourselves. This article discusses practices a court leader can take, regardless of the amount of experience, particular job title, or specific court. These choices will position court leaders for success and career enjoyment.

This subject is offered because there are new and seasoned leaders that can use these techniques. New or short-term court leaders, early career professionals, have questions or are curious about setting themselves up for career paths, success, and court leadership responsibilities. They may be asking “how does one succeed?” or “what do successful court leaders do?” Individuals currently in executive leadership positions may be seeking ideas and inspiration to improve their sense of accomplishment or success. These suggested tactics can benefit us all.

Here is one set of strategies and behaviors to take. It is an outgrowth of the author’s experiences, observations, and study. Beginning in September 2023, monthly postings on this topic have been included on the courtleader.net, a website with content for court leaders, each posting covering one specific topic or practice.1 Eleven practices have been identified.

The chart below illustrates the eleven practices. Each will be presented and accompanied by a few select practices. Readers are encouraged to think about their own tips for success and lessons learned. 

As a court leader, there are actions and steps to take to be successful. 
“The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda.”

John C. Maxwell Author and Leadership Speaker

Eleven Practices to Make the Most of Being or Becoming a Court Leader

Here are the eleven suggested practices. A description of each practice is stated followed by a summary of select resources for tips and practices.

#1—Know Yourself. Here the focus is on finding out “what makes you tick.” That includes understanding what matters and is important to you and being clear on your strengths, weaknesses, emotions, desires, abilities, and thought patterns. 

Resources on this topic include:

  • “Managing Oneself,” by Peter Drucker (Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999), where we are invited to ask about our strengths, how we work best, what our values are, and in which ways we can best contribute.
  • “What Makes a Leader,” by Daniel Goleman (Harvard Business Review, November-December 1998), in which we are advised to self-evaluate, self-regulate, understand motivations, practice empathy, and use social skills.
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (New York: The Free Press, 2001), which mentions understanding your natural talents, distinguishing what you can still learn, and determining how you are differentiated from others.

#2—Know Your Job. It is vital to know and understand the position, comprehend what it entails, and recognize the performance expectations of your position.

Resources on this topic include:

  • The NACM CORE® Competencies, with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for being a court leader in 13 areas. The competencies cover modules of vision, principle, and practice and provide court leaders with specific competency materials ranging from court leadership to court purposes to court operations management.
  • Court leader roles, as noted in the NACM CORE® Competency on Leadership, where eight distinct roles are indicated noting responsibilities like communicator, motivator, or strategist.
  • “How to Succeed Quickly in a New Role,” by Rob Cross, Greg Pryor, and David Sylvester (Harvard Business Review, November–December 2021), which asserts that we should “show, don’t tell” about ourselves and our performance.

#3—Use Personal Goals. Having personal goals helps you determine the direction of your own professional vision and performance.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “To Reach Your Goals, Make a Mental Movie,” by Srini Pillay (Harvard Business Review On Point, summer 2018),where we are asked to define the goal, write it down, make a representative graphic or visual, set time aside each day to work on goals, and repeat the process.
  • “Unleash the Power of Finding Purpose,” by Amy Somerville (Success Magazine, November-December 2023), which suggests taking the time for self-reflection, picturing the ideal future and the desired job in five years, and soliciting honest feedback on your strengths, passions, and influences.
  • “3 Core Skills to Master for Career Success,” by Dakota Webber (ASU Thrive, fall 2023), where we are reminded to use critical thinking and analytical skills and to learn and use the ability to innovate and generate existing ideas in new ways and develop resilience and optimism.

#4—Expand Your Network. Expanding your network allows you to interact and engage with others from whom you can learn and develop new skills.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “How Successful People Network,” by Dorie Clark (Harvard Business Review, special issue, fall 2022), in which successful people identify what sets them apart from others while identifying commonality, building genuine expertise, and becoming hub of the network for activities.
  • “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” by Hermina Ibarra and Mark Hunter (Harvard Business Review, special issue, fall 2022), which spells out three diverse types of networks that are vital to use: operational networks with those who can help you do your job, personal networks to gain new perspectives, and strategic networks for exposure to broader ideas.

#5—Engage as a Leader. This topic reminds us that as a leader, we need to both expand our visibility and flex our leadership skills.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “How to Gain Credibility When You Have Little Expertise,” by Andy Molinsky and Jake Newfield (Harvard Business Review, special issue, summer 2023), which says you can leverage research skills and unique knowledge, embrace your specific contributions, volunteer and take on new projects, communicate proactively, and build a network of relationships and colleagues.
  • Courthouse Confidential: Unveiling Lessons Learned in Leading and Managing Trial Court Organizations, by Guiseppe Fazari (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., 2022), which notes these characteristics of successful administrators: being a good communicator, demonstrating decisiveness, being accountable, working in an ambassador role, and showing executive competence.

#6—Interact with Groups. Interacting with others creates learning, shared experiences, collaboration practice, and skill development.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “How to Network with Powerful People: The New Rules of Networking,” by Michael C. Wenderoth (Harvard Business Review, special issue, fall 2020), which shares these strategies: be recommended, play up your similarities, bring value, use flattery toward others, and ask, reach out, and be persistent.
  • “The Discipline of Teams,” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2005), which focuses on techniques for high performance and mentions using shared leadership roles, creating individual and mutual accountability, seeking collective work goals and products, and using problem-solving techniques.
  • “Ways to Improve Social Interaction,” from Leadership Media Group, which reminds us to greet others, engage in conversations, volunteer to assist, ask for advice, network with groups, and be observant.

#7—Use Advisors and Confidants. The use of helpers (of many types) provides feedback, vital learning, and support.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “24 Reasons Why a Mentor Is Important,” by Jamie Birt (Indeed.com), which shows how mentors support growth, serve as a source of knowledge and free resources, and help us set goals.
  • “Want to Advance in Your Career? Build Your Own Board of Directors,” by Susan Stelter (Harvard Business Review, Ascend newsletter, May 9, 2022), which discusses how your own board of directors will serve as a network of individuals, serve as advisors, expose you to specialized skill sets, and provide experiences that may be distinct and different from yours.

#8—Practice Problem Solving. Court leaders solve problems every day. Problem-solving tactics should always be considered, including some we may not typically see in the court.

Recourses on this topic include:

  • GROW—identify the goal (G), assess the current, reality, strengths, and weakness (R), consider options to consider or create (O), and think about the way to move forward (W).
  • OODA—observe the environment (O), orient yourself with information and analysis (O), determine action to take (D), and proceed in the chosen direction (A).
  • PHASE—determine the purpose (P), identify how to get to that purpose and goal (H), document the action or plan for the direction and outcomes (A), create support and processes (S), and evaluate or examine outcomes and results (E). See Terri Deal, “PHASE: A Practical Approach to Implementation,” presentations, NACM Midyear Conference, February 2024.

#9—Record and Journal. The action of notetaking and recording goals and progress helps a leader stay on track and evaluate.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “Why Everyone Should Keep a Journal: 7 Surprising Benefits,” by Kaiser Permanente, March 24, 2020, noting that journaling helps you achieve goals, track progress toward the goals, gain self-confidence, improve writing and communication skills, reduce stress and anxiety by releasing thoughts from your mind, find inspiration, and strengthen memory.
  • “To Be an Effective Leader, Keep a Leadership Journal,” by Henna Inam (Forbes, April 2, 2017), which states you should ask what’s going well (or not); what’s challenging and why; what needs my attention; and what am I learning?
  • “How to Make Resolutions You Will Keep,” by Harvey Mackay (Aspen Times, December 18, 2011), noting the importance of keeping a journal and spending time each day to write thoughts, note feelings/dreams/ambitions, and allow the mind to wander and generate ideas.

#10—Contribute to the Profession. New and experienced court leaders have found benefits from contributing to this profession by engaging with each other, studying skills, and sharing information with those not familiar with court leadership.

Resources on this topic include:

  • “Building an Impactful Career: Five Steps Towards Meaningful Contributions,” by netimpact.org, which discusses how people contribute to their profession by having clarity and self-awareness of their strengths and values, seeking continuous learning, practicing networking and relationship building, and embracing challenges and resilience.
  • “What Does it Mean to be Professional,” by Jennifer Herrity (Indeed.com, March 20, 2023), asserting we should make use of the traits of communication, respect for others, a strong work ethic, dependability, and flexibility.

#11—Utilize Resources. This final strategy reminds us to look for resources wherever our work takes us. Resources include people, events, learning, and experiences. As already stated, NACM membership and the NACM CORE® competencies represent access to seasoned court professionals and a collection of suggested knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for leaders to know and apply. Interactions with members and exposure to recommended KSAs provide ongoing skill development on the path to success.


These practices represent but one summary set of tips. You may notice that several skills appear in many of the practice areas, for example, communication, self-awareness, and continuous learning.

The role of any leader, and of court leaders too, includes continuous learning. Part of that learning may involve applying these suggested practices to increase individual capabilities, credibility, and confidence. Readers can expand their ideas and strategies by accessing and using NACM resources, conferences,2 mentors, and member colleagues. Select articles, previously published in the Court Manager, can also serve as inspiration based upon what fellow NACM members have shared.3

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca


Janet G. Cornell is a court consultant and retired court administrator in Arizona.

  1. See www.courtleader.net. The series posting may be found at https://courtleader.net/2023/09/01/im-a-court-administrator-now-what/, the first posting, followed each month by subsequent postings.
  2. For more exposure to these ideas, the NACM 2024 Annual Conference will include a breakout session on “I’m a Court Administrator—Now WHAT?!”
  3. See the following articles: Jude Del Preore, “Building Leaders—The Essential Library for Court Administrators,” Court Manager 26, no. 4 (2011), available at https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/1927/rec/1; Giuseppe M. Fazari, “A 360º of the First 365 as a Trial Court Administrator: Developing a Perspective,” Court Manager 30, no. 1 (2015), available at https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/2344/rec/1, Janet G. Cornell, “Leadership Pathways and Perspectives of Your NACM Officers,” Court Manager 31, no. 4 (2016), available at https://thecourtmanager.org/wp-content/uploads/ncsc-courtmanager-31.4-winter.pdf; and Janet G. Cornell, “When Challenged as a Court Manager, Consider Reengineering with a Practical, Personal Focus,” Court Manager 29, no. 4, (2014-15), available at https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/2151/rec/3.