Diversity & Inclusion

Diverse Leadership Styles Help Lawyers and Their Firms Achieve Success

McGuireWoods Chairman Jonathan Harmon graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in Operation Desert Storm as a first lieutenant in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division before earning his law degree. He joined McGuireWoods in 1995 and became chairman in 2017.

CCBJ: In discussing the challenge of bringing greater inclusion to the legal profession, you’ve framed the problem — and the solution — in terms of leadership. What’s the connection between leadership and inclusion?

Jonathan Harmon: I believe it’s important for any successful organization to have leaders with diverse backgrounds and leadership styles. Everyone brings their own strengths, ideas and unique perspectives to a team. Having a range of leadership styles helps ensure that everyone’s needs are met and that everyone feels invested in the team’s mission.It’s also essential that we, as leaders, hold ourselves accountable for building a more inclusive environment. At McGuireWoods, we have established specific metrics to evaluate our progress in meeting our hiring, retention and promotion goals. We have created programs to develop and retain women and diverse lawyers and partnered with clients on innovative initiatives. We have leveraged in-house expertise to create a diversity dashboard that will help us identify where our biggest challenges and opportunities are. But it takes leadership to ensure that these approaches are effective and move us closer to achieving our diversity and inclusion goals.

You’ve spoken publicly about your days as a green West Point graduate charged with leading grizzled combat veterans in the heat of battle in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. How has that experience shaped your approach to leadership as a trial lawyer and as chair of a leading law firm?

My training prepared me to lead people who have more knowledge and experience than I have. There were soldiers in my platoon who fought in Vietnam and other conflicts. It was humbling to lead people who had that experience and perspective. I knew I couldn’t come in as a young first lieutenant on day one and start dictating how they should do their jobs. I had to motivate the team to teach me.I developed what I call a “servant leadership” style, which served me well as a military officer and as a lawyer. I believe everyone on a team is important, regardless of rank. A leader cannot succeed unless every person on the team understands they are needed. When everyone is encouraged to step up and contribute, the team performs more effectively. I learned early on that creating an inclusive environment is not just the right thing to do, it is essential for success.

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