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In this episode, Heather speaks with Phil Weiser, Attorney General in Colorado. Heather met Phil during her law school days at CU Boulder, but invited him to be on her podcast after hearing a speech he gave about empathy. Caring leadership is about emotional intelligence, and with empathy at the core of that, Heather knew she had to have Phil as a podcast guest.
Phil shares his leadership journey, sage advice, enjoyable anecdotes, and even the DEI&B initiatives underway at the Colorado Department of Law.
- To be alive is to grow.
- Focus on leading with empathy and not judgement.
- Leadership is about urgency, care and vision.
- Some people need to be asked and encouraged to apply for promotions.
- Your strengths are also your weaknesses, be alert.
- True care means willing the good for another. Even if that makes more work for you.
- Give yourself grace.
Phil Weiser is the 39th Attorney General of Colorado.
As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Weiser is committed to protecting the people of Colorado, defending the rule of law, and building a Department of Law that serves all Coloradans effectively. Public Service is one of Weiser’s core values.
Previously, Weiser served as a Professor of Law and Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, where he founded the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Weiser served in senior leadership positions in the Obama administration, and was appointed to serve as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation at the White House’s National Economic Council. Earlier in his career, Weiser co-chaired the Colorado Innovation Council and served in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice.
After graduating law school, he worked in Denver for Judge David Ebel on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and held two clerkships at the United States Supreme Court, for Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Attorney General Weiser lives in Denver with his wife Dr. Heidi Wald, and their two children.
Growth Through Mistakes
I’m a big believer. This is something that the people who work with me are still going to use—continuous improvement. It’s a journey. Anyone who says, “I’m perfect, I’m the best version of me I’m ever going to be,” I would say that means you’re dead. To be alive is to grow. To challenge yourself to grow is to acknowledge that you’re imperfect. You’re human.
I have made mistakes, and I will make mistakes. I have done things I feel bad about and that I wished I hadn’t done. But that’s being human.
Caring, Vision, and Urgency
Part of what I believe leading entails are three things: caring, vision, and urgency. Part of that caring means some people are going to leave my team because that’s the best thing for them to do, and I support them. One of the best things I do as attorney general is help support and encourage lawyers who become judges. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. I will lose them for my team, but I care about them. I want them to be their best selves. I want to help support their journey. The second point is you have to have a vision. What are you trying to accomplish? How are you trying to accomplish it? What are your core values? What is your mission? That’s spelling out a vision for what your organization is about. The third point is, I believe leaders need a sense of urgency. I’m very entrepreneurial in how I look at the world and think about things. When people are working with me, I don’t want you to tell me “We’ve always done it this way before.” I want to hear, “What’s the best way to do something?” or “What if we try this experiment?” That’s the sort of thinking I like to encourage.
The caring point and the innovation point go together. This is not always understood. But if you lead an organization in a climate of fear, if people don’t feel cared about, and they feel judged, they will feel like they’re at risk. They’re not going to take risks themselves. They’re not going to be innovative, because they’re going to be afraid of what’s going to happen.
Empathy, Not Judgement
My journey is to be more accepting of being human, and being more compassionate. The reason that I gave that speech is because I believe empathy and emotional intelligence are so undervalued for lawyers compared to how important they are. It’s a real problem in our profession. Right, now I’m focused on leading with empathy and not with judgment. When I say leader, you could be one in your family, in your community, or in your workplace. Do you show up with empathy? Do you show up with judgment? A lot of people are quick to judge other people without knowing all that’s going on our current society. We’re making quicker judgments based on less information and less understanding. I want to do my part and the best I can do to lead with empathy, not with judgment.
I want people to know I care about them and I support them. I know they’re going to make mistakes because they’re human. I make mistakes. We learn from mistakes. If we don’t make any mistakes, it may mean that we’re not trying enough new things. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. We’re going to have a bunch of different initiatives at the Colorado attorney general’s office to serve the people of Colorado. We’re doing it because we care about the people of Colorado, and we want to find new ways to make people’s lives better.
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