NASJE: National Association of State Judicial Educators
NASJE Resources

Maryland Judiciary's Executive Leadership Program
SJI Grant Product – Grant No. SJI-07-N-001

For years, state courts have been grappling with the differences between management and leadership.  There are as many definitions of each as there are books on the topics.  Leadership can take many forms.  Simply defined, it is the ability to lead.  Peter Drucker defines a leader as “someone who has followers.”  There are “born leaders” -- charismatic individuals who inspire others with their passion for a cause or an ideal -- but they are rare.  In the work world, the “leaders” we frequently encounter are people in positions of authority with a range of management and interpersonal skills and experience.  They may or may not even recognize that their job requires them to lead others; they may confuse management with leadership.  Management ensures that organizations run smoothly, keeps things in order, and deals effectively and efficiently with problems as they occur; leadership defines the future of an organization, aligns people with a vision, and inspires others to make that vision happen, despite obstacles (Kotter, 1996).  Both are extremely important to an organization, and both can be learned.  Finding the right balance is the challenge, and it requires collaboration and teamwork.
In general, court systems do not create and nurture executive teams.  The legal training judges receive prepares them to interpret laws and decide cases.  When they become administrative judges and are confronted with resolving critical issues that may impact the court’s overall effectiveness, they may fear they will look indecisive if they seek others’ perspectives.  Depending on how they interact on a daily basis with their respective administrative judges, court administrators may not feel comfortable recommending changes to court operations.  For these reasons, court managers and judges frequently do not develop the type of relationship that encourages and values collaboration.  The dynamic between elected and appointed positions adds yet another dimension to the leadership dilemma.  Elected clerks of court may not perceive that position as an integral part of an executive team.  Consequently, the “leadership” the administrative judge, the court manager, and the clerk of court provide is splintered, which prevents a court from functioning at its optimum level.  

With funding from the State Justice Institute, the Maryland Judiciary recently completed a series of leadership retreats for three-person executive teams from the District Court and the circuit courts.  The program was designed to serve as an organizational enrichment tool to enhance individual, team, and overall court performance, and instill in judges and court managers a fuller understanding of the purposes and responsibilities of courts.  The three-member circuit court teams were comprised of the County Administrative Judge, the Court Administrator, and the Clerk.  The District Court teams consisted of the Administrative Judge, the Administrative Clerk, and the Administrative Commissioner.  The retreats explored the dynamics of elected versus appointed positions, which can undermine executive collaboration and fragment innovation.  They emphasized the leadership qualities that promote enhanced executive performance.  The goal was to create a cadre of leadership teams in Maryland’s trial courts that will enhance court performance.

Between November 2007 and April 2008, the Maryland Judiciary held 6 2½-day retreats for teams from all circuit courts and the District Court.  Based on the interest that participants have conveyed in institutionalizing and following up on the retreats, the Judiciary is already beginning to plan its next retreats for Winter 2008-2009.  Those retreats will expand the concepts of personal and team “personality” profiles by introducing the concept of “court culture” and accountability.  The remaining part of the agenda will include further discussion on procedural fairness, and reviews and implications of various surveys conducted to solicit public opinion about the Judiciary.  
The following documents are available:

  • Sample letter from Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals inviting executive leadership teams from circuit courts and District Court to participate in the retreats PDF (48k)
  • Leadership Retreat Agenda DOC (24k)
  • An article from the Spring 2008 edition of Justice Matters about the retreats PDF (196k)