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Juana Bordas
Diversity leader

Juana Bordas

Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a company focusing on leadership, diversity, and organizational change. Author of the 2007 book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, she is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

She can fill O'Connor's shoes

Q: In appointing a new Supreme Court Justice to replace John Paul Stevens, President Obama was seeking someone who could provide intellectual and personal leadership of the liberal block. His gamble in nominating Elena Kagan is bringing in someone from outside the 'priesthood' of appeals-court judges. What are the advantages and disadvantages of selecting a leader with non-traditional qualifications?

The first consideration in selecting a leader is the position and the nature of the job he or she is expected to do. The Supremes are no ordinary group and joining them requires exceptional intelligence, experience, and dedication. Obama has certainly pondered these prerequisites and believes that Elena Kagan has those qualifications.

I learned about the trials and tribulations of being a Supreme Court Justice from Sandra Day O'Connor in 1990 when she met with women from the National Hispana Leadership Institute. Maybe it was the salsa we brought the native Arizonan or her connection to women or love of the Latino culture that allowed her to be so open about her life. In her powerful and yet soft-spoken way, she shared the long days of reading legal documents and the intense discourse on cases brought before the Court. She showed us her office and sighed that she would work in this room for the rest of her professional life.

I felt a great weight on her shoulders and realized the tremendous dedication, spirit of service, and sacrifice she was making. She said "yes" to a life time of reading, contemplation and wrestling with the law, and had chosen to recluse herself from much of ordinary life. How many of us could follow suit? On top of this, O'Connor was a solitary woman, the pathfinder that opened the Supreme Court for other women. She would wear the black robes and work with the same men for the rest of her career. What a lonesome path and incredible personal sacrifice!

Being a Supreme Court Justice is a life-long calling. Elena Kagan has the experience, the "moxie," the devotion to public service, and intellectual fire power to follow in O'Connor's footsteps. She is a young, brilliant, and an eminently qualified choice. While she has never been a judge, as dean of Harvard Law School she understands the complex and changing issues the Court will decide. As the first woman U.S. Solicitor General, she has been the "the 10th justice" - that really is good enough! Since this a life-long appointment, she will have ample time to acquire any seasoning or skills she might need.

Obama is really not taking much of a risk - a woman with these kinds of credentials has overcome multiple obstacles. This will give her an advantage the men in the court simply do not have.

Once a leader has ascertained that a candidate with non-traditional qualifications has the capacity to excel at the job, the question becomes, "Why choose this person over others who could hit the ground running?" Authentic leaders who believe in their principles and vision for the future will choose candidates who will keep the torch aflame, pursue their ideals, and ensure their legacy.

Obama, because he represents a new generation of leaders, is idealistic and has a charismatic aura that has often been compared to President John F. Kennedy. JFK also made non-traditional choices. One in particular was the most controversial appointment of his administration. Kennedy walked out of his home on a brisk December morning, flashed that lightening smile, and in his humorous way, whispered to the press, "It's Bobbie."

Robert Kennedy navigated the murky waters of Civil Rights, fought organized crime and corruption, and served as one of our country 's most valiant Attorney Generals. Certainly he was a non-traditional choice, but the young president had confidence that Bobbie would champion the principles and causes that he sought to leave as his legacy. And so Bobbie did until his voice was silenced. President Obama is betting that Elena Kagan will do the same.

By Juana Bordas

 |  May 11, 2010; 5:56 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

"Maybe it was the salsa we brought the native Arizonan or her connection to women or love of the Latino culture that allowed her to be so open about her life."

Oh spare me.

Posted by: CaughtInAMosh | May 11, 2010 11:43 PM
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