Leadership is an energetic process of creating vision resulting in commitment to a common course and preferred future. Just as there is no one best way to manage courts, there is no best way to be a court leader. Leadership is highly personal – some people are naturally better able than others although everyone can learn good leadership techniques.


Effective court managers/leaders create, implement, and nurture a clear and compelling vision for the court, bringing a strategic perspective to their work, while staying attuned to daily operations. The combination of leadership and proactive management enable the court to fulfill the public’s trust in the judiciary through service and adherence to the rule of law. The effective court leader is ultimately measured by the judiciary’s performance in the key areas procedural due process, the protection of rights, transparency, accessibility, the stewardship of scarce resources, and the achievement of timely justice in individual cases.[1] Effective court leadership delivers on these promises through a well-defined and fully operational governance structure.[2]

This Competency focuses on the traits and behaviors effective court managers/leaders should demonstrate. At their core, great leaders “turn ideas into reality and sustain them over time, independent of the leader.”[3] Thus, great leaders exhibit behaviors that require skills described in detail in the other Core Competencies. Leaders are optimistic, positive change agents who focus on important strategic goals. “…Leadership exists, when one or more persons engage others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”[4] Leaders are also visible, approachable, and model behavior courts need inside and outside of the organization. Court leaders, both judges and court executives, can achieve this result by working effectively in judicial executive teams.

A sound governance structure[5] establishes the legitimate authority for leadership to bring into action what needs to be accomplished and for the further development of trust between a central office and autonomous work units[6]. The governance structure needs to be clearly articulated so there is no confusion as to who has the responsibility and authority to lead. This is particularly important since the judicial branch works from a position of interdependence with others.[7]

[1] Link to Purposes and Responsibilities

[2] Link to Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[3] Cite to Warren Bennis

[4] James MacGregor Burns in Leadership

[5] See also Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[6] Link to Ibid.

[7] A Case for Court Governance Principles (p.3)


Regardless of the context in which a court operates, court managers who also provide proactive leadership for the court, should be able to:

  • Look beyond today’s crises by being grounded in the present while always anticipating the future.
  • Be persistent yet flexible, guide with credibility, respect others, and be accountable for actions.
  • Inspire others to act. Leadership that creates and sustains improvements has an inspirational dimension.
  • Influence and empower leaders and followers to work toward mutual goals.
  • Serve as an effective decision maker, conflict manager, and problem solver.
  • Simultaneously create, protect and maintain stability while taking risks, questioning the status quo, and stimulating growth and change.

Court managers who are also proactive leaders in their courts must draw upon a variety of competencies, which they will likely develop over time as their experience and perspective mature. Paramount among these are:

  • Providing vision with a focus: Leaders create vision; establish action plans that support this vision; and, with the help of others, clearly communicate the roles of departments and individuals in attaining the vision.   Leaders think in the long term and focus their own efforts and the efforts of others on core court purposes and the need to transition from the present to an inspired future.
  • Anticipating developments that will affect court operations and decision-making interdependencies with other justice organizations, the private bar, and other constituent groups: The environment in which courts operate is always changing, as a result of changing law enforcement priorities, prosecutorial policies, statutory changes, fiscal and other resources, demographics and many other factors. Court managers who are leaders in their respective courts must be competent in identifying the myriad of factors that will influence the court’s operations and services, anticipate the changes that will potentially occur, and plan for them.[1]
  • Proficiency in diagnosis and analysis: Court managers who provide proactive leadership for their courts must develop competency in measuring the court’s progress toward stated goals and meeting the needs and expectations of the public and regular court users, translating the results of this analysis into a plan for the future.
  • Effectively carrying out the court’s mission: Court leaders are dedicated to inspiring, preparing, supporting and guiding the court’s organization and people to achieve the all-important purposes of the judiciary. They are focused on insuring citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, that each case receives individual justice, that procedural due process is honored, and our society’s rule of law is preserved and enhanced.


[1] See Creating a Strategic Vision for the Court