“Being a Gardener”

“Being a Gardener”
By Ashley Akers


When Mark Vincent and Jonathan Hafen visited KU Law, they imparted upon FBA members advice that will help the members’ careers bloom for years to come. Mark is the active FBA President and is tasked with growing the vision of the federal bar. Jonathan is the Vice President of Circuit Representatives and heads the membership development efforts. As guests of the FBA Division at KU Law, Mark and Jonathan addressed FBA members on how to become better leaders.

Mark shared his journey of the law that began with a sunny three years in Malibu, California at Pepperdine School of Law. Fresh out of law school, Mark started his career as a district attorney and moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office only a few years later. When asked how his involvement with the FBA started, Mark half-jokingly admitted it was through an act of trickery. As Mark was searching for an organization to volunteer with and become involved in, he asked a friend about the Federal Bar Association. The friend offered to take Mark to lunch the following day to chat about the FBA, and Mark eagerly agreed. As Mark and his friend pulled into a restaurant parking lot, it became clear there was something amiss. A handful of lawyers parked and entered the restaurant at the same time. Mark was directed to sit at a table with the lawyers. His lunch meeting was actually a board meeting and he was introduced as the newest member of the Utah Chapter. There was no turning back.

The Utah Chapter is anything but lacking in the leadership department. Jonathan, who has made a name for himself speaking about leadership, sits on the same board where Mark started his involvement with the FBA. Jonathan entertained KU Law Division members with funny stories, inspirational quotes, and movie clips about leadership. He also shared five tips to becoming a better leader. The tips should be helpful to all law student members searching to become better leaders in the FBA and beyond.

1) The first person you need to lead is yourself.
Leading yourself requires counsel from others. It requires you to identify and build connections with mentors. Mentors help identify your strengths and set a plan in motion to achieve your goals. Drawing from personal experience, Jonathan recalled a time when he and his wife slept. A time, that is, before they were blessed with triplets. Three babies. Two parents. All at once. Fast forward 16 years and Jonathan is teaching his children to drive in the “Hafen Assault Vehicle.” Jonathan surfaced his speech with a fair warning that life comes fast and you must focus on where you want to go before it is too late. As students entering the high-paced profession of law, it is important to put on the “Back to the Future glasses” and imagine where you will be in five years, ten years, and even twenty years time. Goals are difficult to achieve without a vision and a plan. As a leader, it is impossible to lead a group of people in the right direction unless you know where you are heading.

2) Before you can be a great leader, you must learn to be a great follower.
Playing off the Jayhawk spirit at KU, Jonathan pointed to none other than James Naismith, the creator of the sport of basketball, to demonstrate the attributes of leadership. Naismith coached Phog Allen, the “Father of Basketball Coaching.” Before Phog ever stepped into the shoes as one of the greatest coaching figures in the history of basketball, he was a student of the game; Phog learned from Naismith, established a capability to coach, developed trust among his peers and mentors, and only then became a leader. The same lessons are true for lawyers. It is essential to learn how to follow (again, where mentors are helpful) other successful leaders before it is possible to become the leader.

3) Seek out leadership opportunities that fit you.
The opportunities for leadership take many forms and can be found in any number of organizations. As a lawyer your time is limited and you must choose organizations to become involved in very carefully. Your leadership opportunities will be meaningless unless you care about and believe in the organization.

And because it wouldn’t be an official FBA event without a shameless plug, FBA is in fact the best place to grow your leadership abilities.

4) Project confidence, even if you don’t feel it.
We have all heard the advice “fake it till you make it.” Jonathan affirmed the importance of pretending you know everything, when in fact you know nothing. Jonathan remembers being at his first meeting as president of the FBA’s Utah Chapter. He sat and waited for someone to call the meeting to order. Then he realized that was the president’s job and he had no idea what to say. In times of doubt, hinder your panic, take charge, and get the job done.

5) Leadership is not measured by what you put on a resume but by the positive influence you make on other people’s lives.
A true leader is never the person who participates in an organization simply to put it on a resume. Your success as a leader should be and will be measured by the impact you have on other people’s lives. Good leaders change people’s lives by investing in service opportunities and helping others in times of need. Leaders create a legacy through the connections made while serving others.

To conclude, Jonathan quoted Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451:
It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

Being a gardener means taking advantage of leadership opportunities and cultivating those opportunities into a legacy. It requires walking through life with an awareness of what you are doing and what you want to do in the future. It is achieved not by a title or a position, but by service to others. Certainly, anyone can chop the top off the grass. However, it takes time, dedication, confidence, and purpose to plant a garden. Leadership is about planting gardens.

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