“Do what is right, not what is easy”
My typical day, like many court leaders, is spent transitioning from one important task to another while putting out unanticipated fires in between. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy being a court administrator. There is something unique that happens each day that allows me to help others and feel challenged. I value to-do lists. They help guide my day and keep track of tasks to be done, while also giving me a great sense of accomplishment when completed. I must admit, sometimes it’s nice to just check the box on many of those easier tasks before getting back to the projects that require more time and consideration.
Sometimes, we are faced with decisions that would make our jobs easier but might not be the right decision for the customers we serve. I faced this issue in a job I held in another court. A decision was made to implement a standardized court process in all courts. If implemented, the new procedure would have eliminated a task, streamlined the process, and, thus, provided for greater efficiency. However, because I felt strongly that the court would be violating individuals’ due-process rights, I took a position not to proceed with the implementation until I was certain due process would be afforded to all litigants. While not an easy decision to make, and one that required much follow-up work, I felt it was the right position to take. Warren Bennis once said that managers do things right; leaders do the right thing. I would like to think as court leaders we do both when called upon. The key is to know which approach to use in every situation. When faced with these difficult decisions, it helps for me to put myself in the court customer’s shoes and ask, would I want this process imposed upon me? I’m not sure I would have slept easily had I proceeded as planned in this instance. Many times, the easy solution is not always the right thing to do. It can often resurface later. As court leaders, we need to be mindful and always question whether what we are doing is the right thing to effectively and justly serve the citizens in our communities. Do our processes and procedures allow due process? Do our calendaring systems serve customers well? Do we provide court consumers enough information?
We regularly face dilemmas or new perspectives on court-related matters. Most recently, NACM has included educational programming at its conferences focusing on the work of the Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices; the opioid epidemic; civil-justice initiatives; and many others. Even when courts are trying to do the right thing, national leaders may take a position that doesn’t fit with a new national court perspective. This is currently the case as it relates to the fines, fees, and bail practices discussion happening nationally. It doesn’t mean we should change our course. To paraphrase Mark Moore from his defining book, Measuring Public Value, good leaders must perform a balancing act between the human need, the individual’s need, the business need, and doing what is best for the community. Many real-life scenarios present us with the daunting challenge of “doing the right thing.” Good leaders constantly evaluate what is best for the individuals and court communities we serve and seek to do what is right.
As court leaders, we must continuously strive to implement change in the justice system, relying on evidence-based research while preserving the rights of citizens and ensuring equal justice for all. It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day work of the courts we manage and lead. But we must pay attention and get educated on the issues affecting courts across the country. It is essential we stay attuned, participate in local and national education offerings, and network with other court colleagues when facing issues that just don’t seem right. We need to remind ourselves to “do what is right, not what is easy.”