Sunday, December 1, 2013

If Leadership is About "Unwinding Commitments," Where Does that Leave Most Lawyers?

UnknownOver at Big Think, Nitin Nohria, the dean of the Harvard Business School, talks about three archetypes of business people: entrepreneurs, managers and leaders.   His point is that leadership really takes place at the end of a great idea's life cycle, when the game isn't what it used to be: "To unwind existing commitments is the real hard task of leaders."

That ought to be provocative over on this side of the street.

As lawyers, most of the time we talk about locking in commitments, most of our focus is on rights, privileges, and powers of the obligee or the duties of the obligor, and we teach first-year contracts in cases of warriors defending those commitments.  In the same blunt instrument mode, you could think of "unwinding" as brute as somebody saying to one's lawyer, "Find a way to break this contract."

It takes a different mental model to be able to see yesterday's commitment not as a citadel to be defended, but as a once-mighty oak rotting from the inside out.

Then again, if it's principled occasionally to be unprincipled, how do you know when to fight and when to compromise?  As lawyers, we tend not to do real well with paradox either.

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As someone who teaches the Wisconsin materials on Contracts, beginning with mitigation, I begin by teaching the unwinding of commitments and that professional independence means separating lawyer and client reactions to breach (the client wants to sit in the dark and force the other party to suffer, whereas the lawyer must be nimble).

Posted by: Robert Rosen | Dec 2, 2013 11:02:58 AM

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