Strengthening Your Sage Leadership Style

Strengthening Your Sage Leadership Style

By Connie Brenton, Olga Mack, Monica Phillips, Maggie T. Watkins
September 13, 2021 | 7-minute read
Marketing Management and Leadership Department Management and Motivation Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential
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Let’s face it — we don’t always feel like we’re in control of our brains. Otherwise, why would we wake up in the middle of the night worried about our to-do lists or challenges at work? At the 2021 LMA Annual Conference, Maggie T. Watkins (Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP), will be moderating the breakout session, “Strengthening Your Sage Leadership Style: The Connection of Mindfulness, Innovation and the Law,” alongside speakers Olga Mack (Parley Pro), Monica Phillips (Spark Plug Labs) and Connie Brenton (NetApp Inc), sharing how to identify the saboteur getting in their way and how to build self-awareness for their thoughts, emotions and beliefs.

We recently spoke with the four presenters on the importance of strengthening our positive intelligence, the impact the pandemic has had on our minds and how to overcome challenges legal marketers face today.

Why is it important for us to learn how to strengthen our positive intelligence and our ability to innovate?

Monica Phillips (MP): When we have a positive mindset, we are open, curious and committed to learning. We are happier, healthier and function consciously with the ability to reach peak performance. When we are triggered and angry, our prefrontal cortex shuts down, we get defensive, reinforce bad habits, get concerned with protecting our ego and ultimately limit innovation. Innovation comes from expanding our perspective, embracing equity and inclusion, and creating a world where everyone can thrive.

Olga Mack (OM): Innovation is a process, not an event. A general sense of optimism, appreciation for learning and positive momentum are mission-critical for moving the process of innovation forward. 

Maggie T. Watkins (MW): Positive intelligence not only makes you feel happier and calmer, but leads to creativity and curiosity, which are important elements needed for innovation.

Connie Brenton (CB): There are three reasons why it’s important to strengthen our positive intelligence and ability to innovate:

  1. Fear stunts growth and immobilizes our ability to innovate; positive intelligence does just the opposite.
  2. Creativity thrives when we are feeling centered, hopeful and positive.
  3. Positive intelligence requires us to be in the moment because it requires practice and intention to work toward mental fitness.

How has the pandemic impacted our brains and our ability to control our positive and negative thoughts? 

MP: We are languishing, which makes it harder to be motivated and stay focused. There is this great scene in the movie, “Soul,” where the new soul is showing the old soul what it’s like when people get into the zone. Without this flow, it’s harder to look forward to much of anything. Most of us don’t want to go back to the way it was, but all of this recent change is too much and we are feeling lost. This state of autopilot is like being unconscious. We are letting life pass us by. Taking one small action that is intentional will help us on our path to conscious leadership and a positive mindset.

OM: Are we in the beginning, middle or end of the global pandemic? Operating under uncertainty has become a new normal. Many professionals have taken this as an opportunity to more effectively and intentionally manage themselves and their own expectations in a more positive way.

MW: It has made it much more difficult. For many of us who are on the upbeat, positive side, it has made us have to work harder to rid those negative thoughts that are creeping in more regularly. It has caused much more stress than normal.

CB: Three impacts come to mind:

  1. We have lived through fear of the unknown with no time to slowly adjust to changes. One day we were together, the next we weren’t. Our worlds fundamentally changed without a transition phase.
  2. There were unintended consequences of routines being disrupted. Everything was new, from how we interacted with our families and friends to how we ate, practiced self-care, exercised, slept and dressed.
  3. The lack of connection has led to severe mental and physical consequences.
Sage leadership is about connecting to our wisdom. That means letting go of our ego and our emotions. This is not an easy thing to do.

You say that "little action" is as important as "big action" in the process to innovate. What do you mean by this? 

MP: In yoga, vinyasa krama means to place step-by-step in a certain way to achieve a goal. You may be able to put your shoes on before your socks but it might not give you the intended outcome. If you have been feeling like you are languishing and you look at the end goal of your project, everything will feel so daunting and difficult. However, if you look at one five-minute task, you might start to feel better, allowing you to celebrate each step on the journey. If you look too much to the end you might miss being present along the way.

OM: How do you eat a sandwich? One bite at a time. Similarly, you innovate one little action at a time.

MW: It is much easier to get the innovation ball rolling by starting with small actions or ideas. I see this in my firm all the time. Sometimes the smallest action can have a large impact on the way people work, and that innovation will lead to more ideas that will then lead to bigger actions. No idea around innovation is too small.

CB: It’s the little things that count. Take risks, tweak, adjust, move forward, celebrate, look for and correct mistakes immediately. The mistakes can be as invigorating as the wins.

What are some of the challenges legal marketers must navigate when it comes to using sage leadership, and how can these challenges be overcome? 

MP: Sage leadership is about connecting to our wisdom. That means letting go of our ego and our emotions. This is not an easy thing to do. There is a different technique that can work for each of us. Here are five ideas to get started:

  1. Listen. It is not about your agenda or ideas. It is about supporting and championing others. A lot of people leave teams when they feel they are not seen, heard and valued. When you acknowledge others on your team, you empower them to step into action.
  2. Let go of control. When we get frustrated by not being able to control things, our anxiety increases and we feel even more out of control. Instead, be the guide on the side.
  3. Embrace empathy. You never know how someone else is experiencing a situation. Sometimes you just have to say, “I am here for you.” This starts with empathy for yourself. We all screw up sometimes. You will feel worse if you get mad about making a mistake.
  4. Get curious and notice what might serve you in this situation.
  5. Connect to a higher mission that is bigger than yourself. Why are you here doing this work?

OM: The legal market is increasingly diverse and complex. It is more critical than ever to really listen to your customer and address their needs head-on in all your marketing efforts. 

CB: One of the greatest challenges is fear and thinking, “We’ve always done it this way.” Look for the mavens, the connectors and the sales people, and empower them with time and money to experiment and create until they hit the tipping point (Malcom Gladwell). And, focus on repetition; create a culture and say it and live it so that it becomes part of the DNA of the organization.

Dive Into More Marketing Management & Leadership Content at #LMA21

Interested in learning more about leadership-focused topics? With over 25 sessions from dozens of high-impact speakers, #LMA21's educational lineup has unmatched educational content for legal marketers and business development professionals to rise up to their next professional opportunity. Click here to learn more about the LMA Annual Conference and register.


Connie Brenton
NetApp Inc.

Connie Brenton is the vice president of law, technology and operations at NetApp Inc. and was the founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and served as CLOC’s CEO and chairman of the board. She has been active in developing and promoting the legal operations role throughout the business and legal communities.

Olga Mack
Parley Pro Inc.

Olga Mack is the CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. She embraces legal innovation and has dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law.

Monica Phillips
Spark Plug Labs

Monica Phillips is the president and founder of Spark Plug Labs. She coaches high potential leaders and teams on leadership, team culture, business development, innovation and heart-based leadership, using a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a positive intelligence mindset.

Maggie T. Watkins
Womble Bond Dickinson LLP

Maggie T. Watkins is the senior client services director for global law firm Womble Bond Dickinson LLP. She has been the CMO for multiple AMLAW 200 firms and the CEO of an international law firm association. Watkins is a recognized leader in professional services marketing.