Out Front

I once tried a criminal case on behalf of a client where the facts were awful against us, the law was not on our side, and my client was guilty in every conceivable way, including in his taped confession. Despite the 6 witnesses testifying against him and the FBI Agents who watched him commit the crime, he wanted a trial. So he got one. We swung and ducked and jabbed and bobbed, only to come in 2nd. In other words, we lost. We “lost like hell” I like to say. Swinging. Though no man likes to loose. Especially when loosing means a long prison sentence. It happens. Hopefully, not with regularity. The lawyer who never lost a trial is either a liar or not really a trial lawyer. I am a trial lawyer and an unabashed Type “A” man. I like to win, correction, I love to win. I love to be out front. In the Court or on the Bike, I like to lead and win, its natural. We all like to win. Lawyers, bikers, baseball players, boxers, gamblers, the list goes on. It’s what makes us human. Even animals like to win. To eat first, to mate, to kill, to survive, its nature. We as a species like to be out front, to be the winner, to come in first. I suspect it is driven from the same part of the brain that causes us, as bikers, to want to lead the pack. There are subconscious elements to personality that push leaders to the front of the pack. I’m no Sigmond Freud, but I believed my Dad when he used to say: “Winning isn’t everything son, but loosing is nothing”. Point well taken. No one wants to come in 2nd. Bikers, young and old, male and female, all want to be the leader, for the most part. Some are content to be followers, but secretly, perhaps even subconsciously, we all want to lead. But careful what you wish for. Being at the front of a pack requires a certain confidence but it also has a responsibility. With leadership, comes consequences – potentially good and bad. Even if it’s just the routine good natured chiding that comes with taking the wrong turn or the bad short cut. Either way, being the leader is not a responsibility that should be taken lightly, in a courtroom, or on a highway. Or any endeavor where you have a following for that matter. I have spent my adult lifetime riding as well as practicing law and have realized there are parallels to running a successful law firm and running a successful motorcycle ride. In recording them to teach others be they bikers or lawyers, I’ve realized there are about 25 rules that have worked for me on leadership (of both my Law Firm and my motorcycle rides). I will list them for you here for posterity sake. They are neither exhaustive nor orthodox business school principles. They have simply served me well in my life, in court and on the road. I’ve scratched them down on sheets of dog-eared paper over the years:

They are as follows:

  1. Listen and take input from everyone involved
  2. Meet with your team often, prepare, listen more and talk less
  3. Set an example
  4. Be passionate but realistic about goals
  5. Be consistent in moving the team forward towards those goals
  6. Make firm decisions and stick to them
  7. Identify your mentors and BE a mentor to others in your group
  8. Know your strengths
  9. Know your weaknesses
  10. Choose your inner circle carefully
  11. Don’t make excuses for mistakes, make solutions
  12. Temper your emotions and avoid knee jerk reactions
  13. Think things through and have a clear path for the group
  14. Prioritize duties and delegate authority wisely
  15. Be humble even in success
  16. Learn endlessly, even when you think you’re an expert at a given task
  17. Always leave room to improve
  19. Learn from mistakes, don’t make them twice
  20. Back up decisions with data, maps, budgets and planning
  21. Give feedback/Get feedback, implement change accordingly
  22. Trust but verify
  23. Don’t burn bridges
  24. Lead authoritatively, but be approachable
  25. Treat everyone equally.

I have amended these principles as I’ve lived them over the years. Being a leader is a fluid process. A friend who owns a large retail company claims he fires 10% of his sales force every year, just to “keep everyone on their toes”. Not my style. If I had to work in an environment like that, I’d be unemployed. If I had to lead one, I’d change things, but not through fear. It is the same with organized rides. Some ride leaders exclude riders based on experience, bike type, sex, biker club, etc…  Ride “inclusively” not “exclusively”. A good leader sees value in all brands, all opinions, all types, both personal and mechanical. It starts in youth. Teach it to you kids. To lead on the playground, on the baseball diamond, at camp, in the classroom, leadership starts early. For my son, it started in Cub Scouts. For me, I cannot trace my want for leadership to a specific age or activity. I am comfortable before a large group and have been since childhood. I recently sat with my 80 year old Mom and went through her old photo albums. We smiled at youthful pictures of me that she methodically documented with photos and clippings. Pictures of a sports teams, debate clubs, Boy Scouts, even teenage motocross events. Being out in front is not fortuitous. We all want our kids to be leaders, to lead their little ‘pack’. I came across a picture of me in my first ‘little pack’, on my first little bike, – out front. The progenitor to it all? Who knows? Coincidence most likely. Funny either way. The picture is marked on its waxy back, “1967”, in blue pen, obviously written by my Mom with her scrolly cursive style, 50 YEARS AGO. I was three and my cohort was Timmy Taniska. We were neighbors on 213th street in New York City. I’ve been by the old house. My Mom’s Salmon colored Plymouth Fury is long gone as is that oak tree. God knows what happened to that bike, my first. A picture speaks a thousand words. Sometimes a million.

Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.  –Irish

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