Anne Mulcahy, former chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation, and Stasia Kelly, DLA Piper partner and incoming US co-managing partner, opened DLA Piper’s second Global Women’s Leadership Summit by discussing their definitions of leadership, expectations of GCs in the boardroom and how female general counsel can make themselves integral to the success of a company.

“It’s All About Followership”

There tends to be much discussion about the characteristics of women leaders and who among the genders make better leaders. Mulcahy doesn’t particularly care to talk about gender-based leadership. Good leadership is good leadership. With that said, Mulcahy expressed her view that leadership is really “all about followership.” A really good leader has to be able to inspire “followership” among team members. Other important qualities for all leaders, she said, include:

  1. Ambition – Leaders have to have ambition, but the ambition has to be about the organization. Being overly ambitious about one’s own goals gets old really quick.
  2. Listening and Learning – Listen with a bias toward absorbing what you hear and respond to it (listen, learn and respond).
  3. Authenticity – Authenticity gives people a sense of predictability about you. It shows you have an entrenched sense of values that people can count on.

She then went on to discuss the best traits for in-house lawyers:

  1. Be a Risk-Taker – Mulcahy said she believes the real inflection points in her career have been when she has taken unpredictable steps for career development and enhancement. For example, she worked in human resources and saw the company through the eyes of the people in terms of engagement and retention. Take tough, non-traditional assignments.
  2. Have a Distinctive Voice – Be challenging in ways that are constructive, but have a voice that’s distinctive. Voice a contrary opinion. Have courage.
  3. Have Clarity – The further you are entrenched in a leadership role, more times than not you have to make decisions that are difficult. Now more than ever in business, decisions aren’t obvious and clear; in the moment, they are tough to make. Have the clarity to make that consistent, value-based decision in the absence of real clarity.

The GC now has to be the number-one business advisor to the management team and CEO. She believes general counsel have the following expectations in the boardroom:

  1. Business Context – Understand the company and your role. Mulcahy wants a person who understands and talks straight about the problems without being an alarmist.
  2. Earned Respect – The ability over time to earn that level of respect from a board of directors that’s required for great interaction. This doesn’t happen on day one.
  3. A Source of Confidence – Boards of directors are beginning to view the GC as a source of unvarnished truth and that the GC will cut through to give them that honest, measured set of facts the board needs and expects.

Among ever-increasing regulatory challenges, FCPA violations, economic changes, among a host of other issues, the boardroom is one of the toughest environments to operate in, and the GC is absolutely one of the most important people in the room. Mulcahy’s advice today will certainly help this audience of women general counsel, associate general counsel and other executive-level women in the corporate legal department in their new, evolved roles.