The Important Lesson from Jury Duty
Being an executive business coach at VIM Executive Coaching, I know all too well that every executive or entrepreneur who comes to us for leadership training leads a busy life. Time, as they say, is always of the essence. So, and with apologies, what I am about to say is about to shock or madden some of you. If you get a summons to go to jury duty please embrace the opportunity and go.
I am not necessarily advising you to go because I believe it’s your civic duty, although it’s a pretty important civic duty, and I am not suggesting you go because it’s a good thing to see democracy in action, though it is an important attribute of democracy. I believe jury duty is essential because it teaches us about mindfulness and non-judgment.
Be Open and Honest
Let’s face it. The knee-jerk reaction to receiving the jury summons is thinking of clever excuses to get out of it. If I were an author of comedy books, I could write a pretty funny book on creative excuses. To be open and honest with you, I think jury duty should be a requirement for every business school because it is so instructive.
When I recently had jury duty, at first, I was no different than most anyone else. I was all I could to do get out of bed, drive down and make it to the jury room. I looked around and saw a a collection of peers. They really weren’t. I suppose most were nice people, but it was apparent they were the men and women who couldn’t come up with reasonable excuses. There were few “executives,” with most folks I talked to being retired, unemployed, between contract labor work or “trapped.”
Be that as it may, and despite my best effort to fly beneath the radar, sure enough the clerk called out 3898 (my number), and I was marched off to a courtroom with about 25 other peers.
I shouldn’t reveal too much about the case except to say that it was a business matter involving a business right of way, and that the case should have been settled far away from a courtroom. In fact, I could not help but feel my grand-daughter and her five-year-old friends could have settled the dispute in a more reasonable and “adult-like” fashion. However, I decided that if I was to indeed be one of the jurors that the business matter before me would at least be tolerable. I might as well settle in and enjoy myself.
The judge was not a ponderous old-fogey, the kind we might imagine from an old Spencer Tracy movie, but a somewhat funny 40-something woman who at once commanded presence, but was also “human.”
What impressed me about her was how she listened and responded to each lawyer’s question and how she never pre-judged a question before she was asked. It was as though she had never heard any of the arguments before, and had never encountered a rude juror before.
A couple of my “peers” indeed, did come out with preposterous statements while they were being interviewed. In fact, they were rather pleased with their comments. The judge cut them short, smiled and did not give them the satisfaction of a diatribe. Other potential jurors, some very shy and understandably fearful of the experience, were drawn out and questioned with respect and empathy.
In essence, the judge was non-judging. She took each person for who they were, how they perceived their role, what their biases might be and how fairly they could judge the rather simple case. One of the lawyers got a “little persnickety,” and the judge, without raising her voice, quickly calmed the situation without reaction or meanness.
I was at first a third alternate, and then I was excused. The jury trial could not have lasted more than a day or two. For all I know, the parties involved put away their shovels and pails and decided it wasn’t worth it to mess up the sandbox any further!
However, the important point of the day was the mindfulness of the judge, the consideration she paid to each side, the lack of pre-judgment and the fairness of her comments. In my coaching, I hope to empower each executive leader with the same ability. They are tools beyond measure, for business and for life.