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General counsel should thoughtfully balance plumbing and poetry

This quote, “leadership involves a delicate combination of plumbing and poetry,” struck me when James March spoke it during an interview (Acad. Mgt. Learning & Ed., Sept. 2011 at 504). Law department leaders have to get the basics rights, the water flowing and the heat heating. Contract review, timely filings, never a default, and few surprises for management. The top lawyer has to attend to the plumbing and both hire, motivate, and direct well.

At the same time, But the top lawyer also has deeper issues to grapple with, such as leadership, power, role modeling, culture, scope and goals. These are grander and more poetic. They call on artistic glow more than mechanical plodding. Both are necessary; general counsel should be poetic plumbers.