How Judicial Educators Can Create “Presence” Within the Judicial Branch

by Christal Keegan, Chair NASJE Communications Committee

On February 11, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time, the NASJE Western Region hosted a webcast featuring former NASJE President Karen Thorson presenting on how state judicial educators can create a sense of presence within the judicial branch and ensure that the educator’s voice is heard when speaking to authority. Her presentation focused on three main questions: 1) What is presence?, 2) Why is it valuable, and 3) How do you earn it?

Karen started the discussion by asking participants how they defined presence and then differentiated between presence, which involves having a voice in the organization, and visibility, which is generally more superficial. She indicated that presence is subjective and based on an individual’s environment. She identified two types of presence: 1) Personal Presence (“Presence” for an individual in a small or large group) and 2) Organizational Presence (“Presence” for the unit/division/department in a larger organization). These are interrelated, but not necessarily interdependent, and both require strategic thinking and proactive effort.

Next, Karen stated that when you have personal presence, you are “at the table” when decisions are made, you are considered an asset to and in the organization, you are respected and sought out by others. She discussed why presence is valuable and provided the following non-exhaustive list: 1) Your opinion, perspective, input, etc. are considered relevant and important, 2) Your expertise has an influence on the direction of the group/organization, and 3) Your own professional growth is enhanced by your ongoing organizational exposure and involvement.

Karen discussed how to earn personal presence, highlighting approaches and behaviors that would ultimately cultivate trust, demonstrate leadership, show unity, and generate collegiality.

The first approach, to cultivate trust, was to develop and maintain authenticity, which she defined as being true to yourself (remaining self-aware, bridging differences without abandoning your ideals), communicating effectively, accurately, and honestly, and demonstrating your values (honesty, integrity, dependability) by “walking-the-walk.” The second approach, to demonstrate leadership, was to exert a transformative influence (not just transactional quality and efficiency), which she identified as dealing effectively with dualities and ambiguities, working with and through others, welcoming challenges, and offering unique, effective, thoughtful approaches (innovative, creative, and practical). The third approach, to show unity, was to align your vision with the organization’s, which she identified as having a vision, thinking system wide (focus outward and remain aware and informed, think beyond your own interests), and accept responsibility and risk regarding the vision (volunteer for or accept new and/or significant projects). The fourth and final approach, to generate collegiality, was to cultivate support in a variety of ways such as, giving what you want to get (respect, engagement, etc.), soliciting input from and cooperation with others (ask for others’ opinions, perspectives, ideas, partner when possible), offer to assist others with their endeavors, honor and respect what others have to say, and give credit to others (share the credit for success).

Karen stated that when your group has organizational presence, it is spoken of with respect, it is widely acknowledged as vital to the larger organization, and other groups seek out your group for a variety of reasons. To earn organizational presence she identified the following approaches: 1) Deliver the highest quality possible, 2) Reflect the organization’s values: share organizational values with personnel and recognize individuals/groups who demonstrate them, 3) Support the organization’s evolution: accept new assignments with commitment and consider roles/assignments – outside the norm – that might enhance understanding of the transformative role of the unit/department/division and the skills of personnel, 4) Foster respect for the larger organization: discourage gossip about the larger organization or individuals in it and promote the larger organization and its services, 5) Foster respect for your group within the larger organization: cultivate pride-of-purpose within your group and highlight the value-added by your group (reports, newsletters, email messages, etc.), and 6) Garner support for your group.

An educational tool Karen used in tandem with her presentation was a personal worksheet she provided pre-webcast. The worksheet served as tool to bring awareness and reflection in identifying our individual presence. The worksheet is available in the NASJE member area.

Karen concluded her presentation by welcoming group discussion to encourage a cross-pollination of individual situations regarding presence. The open-exchange of situations and ideas was insightful and helped us compare our colleagues’ presence situations to our own unique situations. In closing, Karen left the group with a quote: Do what you can from where you are with what you have.