Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a brilliant lawyer and judge who elevated our Supreme Court beyond measure. She was a gifted thinker who was not only visionary in terms of women and human rights, but also was able to persuade others to see her perspectives. Her leadership will be missed deeply but her legacy will live on for all of us to continue. She believed in the importance of leadership as demonstrated in her famous quote:
“Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
After graduating from law school, Justice Ginsburg had a tough time getting a job but that didn’t deter her. She persevered, becoming a professor at Rutgers and then at Columbia. She never gave up even when the men around her were able to secure work positions more easily.
What kept RBG so focused and able to lead through challenges that many were unable? Why did she feel empowered to keep fighting when others gave up or settled for far less? How was she able to work with justices that had different views from her own?
Four leadership lessons Supreme Court Justice RBG taught us:
1. Play To Your Strengths and Gifts
Justice Ginsburg was self-aware of what she was good at. She loved law and had the ability to use her legal background to be an extraordinary judge. That was her true gift and she loved legal discussions. She may have been somewhat introverted but knew how to connect with others, even colleagues who had very different points of view. To be a great leader it is important to identify our talents and gifts and use them often.
2. Be Clear On Your Vision
RBG had a great deal of clarity about her professional vision. She always knew her priorities and used her vision to guide her actions and decisions. She wanted to empower women to be part of the highest court in the land. She believed in civil rights and kept that front and center in her decision. To lead like RBG with a strong leadership vision:
- Be clear on your vision and what you want to stand for.
- Keep re-evaluating your priorities to make sure you are leading with the pressing issues.
- Let others know your vision and why you feel it represents your thinking.
- Allow your vision to be your moral compass in whatever you tackle.
3. Don’t Be Deterred When Things Get Tough
Justice Ginsburg didn’t allow obstacles to prevent her from doing what she saw as right. She worked around a male dominated legal field and always expressed her needs and perspectives. When things were difficult she jumped higher and worked harder. The same for each of us when we face roadblocks. They may feel scary and insurmountable, yet we need to be creative in how to overcome them. When RBG couldn’t get a job in a NY university initially, she became a professor at Rutgers. In the end she ended up a tenured professor at Columbia.
4. Be Influential
RBG was known to be a connector of ideas and people. She was able to see beyond different opinions and successful in finding commonality. She did this with her relationship with conservative Justice Scalia. Leaders who are able to form connections with people of different backgrounds and opinions will be the strongest leaders. To be influential:
- Listen to the words of others even if you disagree with them. There may be some commonality if you work hard enough.
- Get to know others on a personal level. We can’t hate colleagues we deeply know and have a relationship with.
- Stay openminded and use your heart and brain to drive your leadership.
We are so grateful to have had Justice Ginsburg shape our American story of justice and freedom.
What additional leadership lessons have you learned from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?