Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.
Beth and Debbie talk with legal industry pioneer, Connie Brenton, about her journey to becoming a powerful leader and the strength it took to get there.
Links from the episode:
[08:22] Overcoming obstacles to reach your goals
[12:06] The 5C’s Plus a Bonus
[21:20] Stop apologizing! Becoming a Powerful Leader
[24:47] What is your leadership superpower?
Debbie Foster (00:03):
Welcome to the Powerful Leaders, no apologies podcast, the show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster.
Beth Thompson (00:12):
And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our website at affinityconsulting.com/powerfulleaders. Here’s the show. Welcome to this episode of Powerful Leaders, No apologies. We are super excited, Connie, to have you with us today. Cannot wait to hear your story and all the wisdom that we know you’re going to share with our listeners. So thank you absolutely for joining us and welcome.
Connie Brenton (00:52):
I am delighted to be here. I am honored and humbled.
Beth Thompson (00:55):
We can’t wait to chat with you. Debbie, I can’t believe here we are. Another episode. We joke every time, Connie, we’ve got this group of people that are begging us for hats and we’re working on these hats for folks. And we’re close. Close. So we always mention the hats. Yes, but we don’t want to eat up our time because there’s so many great things to talk about today with the hat conversation. So Connie, why don’t you go ahead and just dive right in. We would love for you to share a bit about your life, about your career, what you’re doing now, what your path has been to where you are, what can you tell us about yourself?
Connie Brenton (01:31):
I have a very eclectic background. I have a JD MBA and I practiced law and I knew I always wanted to be a lawyer from the age of five. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I also am an entrepreneur at heart. And so I have started and I have sold a number of small businesses. In fact, I still own a gift store, 6,500 square feet, a gift store in Boulder, Colorado that I’ve had for 30 years. So I did then become a lawyer, but along that path I started several other businesses. Then I worked for a small firm in Boulder doing litigation, something that I swore I would never do. So personal injury litigation, I should have knocked on wood. And I did that for a number of years and it was very difficult. It was a very difficult career path for me because I have strong empathy for people and it had a lot of suffering and it was emotionally draining.
And so I went from there to Storage Tech, which was a digital storage company in Colorado in their procurement group. And shortly thereafter, sun purchased Storage Tech, and I then moved from the procurement group over into the legal organization, and it is there where the general counsel, Mike Dylan, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would be interested in running the legal operations group. And at that time, he had a group of 26, which is a huge team even by today’s standards. And so I took that role and then Sun got purchased by Oracle, and Oracle did not have a legal operations role, and they said, we’ll try it. If there’s an roi, we will continue. And so I stood the rollup at Oracle, and I am happy to tell you that it still exists today. Along with that change, which was a fairly significant change, I was asked to move from Colorado, which is where I was born and raised, and I was asked to move to the Bay Area to headquarters at Oracle.
And I love creating communities, and I have a very large network in the location where I generally live. So all of a sudden I am in the Bay Area and I don’t know anybody. So I start making phone calls to colleagues asking if they’d like to get together. And we started these book clubs, these legal operations book clubs, and it was at a time where legal operations was not well defined and there were only a few of us, probably 150 across the entire country and started to form a community here. From there, then my partner, Jeff, Frankie and I, my partner and partner were on vacation and we were talking and we said, we really should formalize this group. And that was the creation of Clock corporate legal operations consortium. And it has now since grown to an organization of thousands and probably the premier legal operations organization. I served as the C E O founder and C E O for many years, and we stepped down in 2019 and have now started our own legal ops.com organization, just starting it to also redefine legal operations for a second time. It’s almost the rebirth. It’s the legal ops.com.
Beth Thompson (05:39):
That’s exciting because now you can learn all the lessons you learned from the first go around. You can now avoid the second go around, right?
Connie Brenton (05:47):
Absolutely. Wow. And along the path, I’ve been a dog trainer, I have started and sold a restaurant. I have this gift store, so I have a lot of different hats
Debbie Foster (06:01):
I need to know about the gift store, what kind of gifts? I love a gift store.
Connie Brenton (06:07):
So that too has been transitional. And part of being a leader is being able to have flexibility and resilience because the gift store prior to Covid looks very different than the gift store after Covid. And we started with a conglomerate of individual local artists, and then we couldn’t, most local artists can’t keep up with the volume. And so then we expanded to buying handmade goods. And then after Covid, there has been a strong increase in the desire for t-shirts. And so we have custom t-shirts because we exist on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, which was the first outdoor shopping mall in the country. Do you
Beth Thompson (06:56):
Have an online presence? We’ll definitely put that in the show notes if you do.
Connie Brenton (07:00):
Beth Thompson (07:01):
It sounds like a great place. Next time, if I’m ever out there again, I need to go check this little shop out.
Connie Brenton (07:06):
We’d love to have you.
Debbie Foster (07:08):
And I think that, you know, say the gift shop before Covid looks different than the gift shop after a law firm, before Covid looks different than the law firm after a legal department looks different pre covid as it does, that is something that we all really do have in common, even to the gift store comment. Well,
Beth Thompson (07:28):
And just life in general. How often do you still talk about pre covid post covid? That is forever going to be the benchmark for a lot of us with different things in our lives.
Connie Brenton (07:40):
I completely agree. Think of how many people have changed locations. Think of how many people are working from home now. I mean, our days are completely different than they were a couple of years ago.
Debbie Foster (07:50):
That’s so true. So Connie, that is, I mean, an amazing story. And it’s almost like when you were thinking about formalizing legal operations in an organization around legal operations, there had to have been a, do we think this’ll work? Are we really going to have thousands of people flocking to be a part of this organization? So I’d love for you to share a little bit about the obstacles, challenges, just other things just from a life perspective that have brought you to where you are now.
Connie Brenton (08:22):
One of my superpowers and also one of my, it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s the same coin. You’re very strong on one side and you flip that coin and you’re not strong at all. And I have a very high tolerance for risk. It’s almost like I’m blind to some of the risks and it looked like a very obvious successful business proposition, keeping in mind that I have created and half a dozen businesses and even more of you start talking about businesses that I had, like lemonade stands and selling beanie babies, et cetera. I really have never found a business that I don’t want. And so when we decided to formalize clock, we went around the room, we were at a book club meeting, we went around the room and asked who in the room thought it would be a good idea and would be in. And literally we went around the room and it was no, no, no, no, no. This is where my high tolerance for risk was a huge benefit. We moved forward anyway, many of those who were on the board and are still on the board, we had to have a talk off the ledge conversation that it’s going to be okay, the model will work. There’s a gap in the industry. This will be a great way to contribute back to the industry. And we were fortunate, extremely fortunate that it was profitable and self-sustaining the first year.
Beth Thompson (10:10):
That’s amazing. And all that, when I hear no, that’s just one step closer to the yes and the rest of the yeses. You’ve just got to find the path to the yeses. Right. And you did obviously find that path.
Connie Brenton (10:22):
Yeah, I am in total agreement there. Everybody it who knows me well, knows never to say, no, you can’t do that.
Debbie Foster (10:31):
That’s funny. So what’s inspiring you right now? What is kind of directing your path? Do you have books, podcasts, people? Tell us a little bit about that.
Connie Brenton (10:42):
So I was diagnosed with breast cancer and have been undergoing treatment for the last year. And so this has been a year of transition and appropriately, I am reading a book called Transitions by William Bridges, and it has been a year of reflection. It has been a year of connecting with myself, what do I really love doing? It’s been a year to connect with friends and family in a very different way. Much more transparency, much more vulnerability. The relationships have become much deeper and mixed in with that is a sense of humor. So have, I’m also reading a book called Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garma. It’s about women’s lives, careers and struggle for empowerment in the late fifties and sixties. I think Apple TV might be picking it up as a series. Then I have a true love of entrepreneurship, and so I am a avid consumer of masterclass.
The last two I watched were Richard Branson, finding Great People and Alexis Hanian, who was the Reddit startup. I think what attracts me to those is their courage. They’re absolute raw courage to move forward in an environment that everyone around them is saying, no, it won’t work. And sometimes it doesn’t work. When you’re starting up a new business, the first six months, everyone’s telling you no, you really don’t become successful until you get to the tipping point. But there’s a lot of struggle before you get to the tipping point. And for those on the outside, it looks so simple. But part of being a leadership, I actually have the five Cs that I talk about when I think about leadership care. So if you care about what you’re doing and if you care about the people that you’re working with, it creates a culture that is authentic and a culture that is strong and a culture where it’s fun to be a part of.
Second is communication. Clearly. You need to be able to communicate and keep that communication open. Collaboration, this is one of my foundational, this is a word that I embrace and this is I think what made Clock successful, and it is what will make legal ops.com successful. We need to bring the entire legal ecosystem into the conversation so that we can jointly develop solutions that work across the ecosystem. The other thing that’s happening in legal though is people are moving from the law firm to in-house and to the technology providers. And so there’s a lot more interconnectedness than there has been in probably in the last decade. Agree. The fourth is courage. And I’ve spoken about courage prior and then creativity. Do it differently. Think of a way to do it differently and brainstorm and have fun with it. This is the conversation that I’ve been having as we get close to the completion of the breast cancer treatment is make sure what you’re doing now, you’re having fun. Doing life is so short, it sounds so trite, but it only takes a diagnosis like that that changes everything in just a blink of an eye. And so make sure you’re doing something that’s fun. That’s great advice because not only is
Beth Thompson (14:50):
Life, but it’s unpredictable. You never know.
Connie Brenton (14:54):
Precisely. You never know. Well, the fact that you have created this series, right? This is fun.
Beth Thompson (15:01):
Debbie Foster (15:02):
It has been fun. I love your five Cs. That’s really powerful. And we had someone else on our podcast a few weeks ago that had, of course, now I’m going to mess it up. What was Valerie’s? It was like C T C or something like that. I love when people come up with their own, it’s almost like a mantra. What is your mantra? What’s the thing that drives you and leads you, and certainly this curve ball for you, the breast cancer diagnosis, giving you a minute to step back and say, what’s next for me? I’m sure while there’s been a lot of, I think you said before, good in a backhanded kind of way, a lot of time for you to think and reflect about what’s next and what your big thing is that you’re doing next
Beth Thompson (15:46):
Won’t curve Balls is another C, right? We can add C to that, to the list of Cs.
Connie Brenton (15:52):
Totally love that. I’ll have to replace one of those.
Debbie Foster (15:56):
Or you can have six Cs
Beth Thompson (15:59):
Bonus. An extra A bonus C, right?
Connie Brenton (16:02):
Oh, that’s a good. Yes. Five C plus. Yes.
Debbie Foster (16:06):
That’s good. That’s good. So we, again, like Beth said, appreciate you sharing that story because I think that we all have things that come up in our lives that are unexpected, that catch us by surprise and make us have to examine our course or redirect our path. And it sounds like you’ve got something really cool coming up with legal ops.com. Is that something we can link to? Is that site ready up live ready to go?
Connie Brenton (16:34):
It is, and it isn’t. So you can get onto legal ops.com and it has two of, so here, here’s another thing about leadership. I think you really need to give back to the community before you start asking for things from the community. And so up on the legal ops.com site is the C L I program, which was originally designed as a give back in partnership with Southern University Law Center. And that’s a summer speaking series, which is completely free and it’s a who’s who in legal operations. It’s a fantastic series. And the other is the legal metrics portal. And that is a metrics, think of it as a metrics dictionary and tool that you can leverage when you’re putting together a metrics program for your legal department in-house legal department. It also is a gift back and it was free. It was done in collaboration. One of my C words with PWC is inspired Elevate, NetApp, of course, and legal ops.com.
Debbie Foster (17:40):
That’s really cool. That’s
Beth Thompson (17:41):
Great. Some really good tools. And I love the idea of giving back first before you ask, give something to the community before you ask for something in return. That’s great.
Debbie Foster (17:51):
That is great. So cli, can you, lots of acronyms flying around legal. So CLI stands for,
Connie Brenton (17:59):
Well, that’s a very good question because it originally stood for community of global interns because we designed it in partnership with Southern University, a law center. And this is an interesting story. I was speaking at an event in Florida and the chancellor from Southern University Law Center came up and he said, we’re doing things very differently in Baton Rouge. And I thought, oh my goodness, you’re a law school. And the law schools have traditionally been slower movers in the industry than others. So I went back and talked to our general counsel and said, I’d like to see the university. So a colleague and I went to Baton Rouge. We arrived on a Sunday. He gave us a tour of the school on Sunday, and he knew everybody’s name and they knew his, and I thought, this is different. I said, how is it that you are recruiting?
And he personally would go through the applications and he would look for students who he knew probably did not score highly enough to get into one of the T 14 schools, for example. But he could see that they had other things going on in their lives that probably influenced their test scores. And so the following day we had intern interviews, and at the end of that day, I thought, you are recruiting for grit and gratitude. This is the most incredible set of students I have seen in a long time. And I have run the internship program at a number of different Fortune 500 companies. So we went back to the Bay Area and I called some friends collaboration, and we started talking about how about we all take an intern from Southern, then my friends at K Y L and Logan said, how about we train our interns? And I thought, well, heck, if you’re going to train seven, may as well train 5,000. And that was the birth of C L I. Oh, wow. But what turned out to be a program for interns, we saw that about 50% were attendees were from law firms and in-house legal organizations. And so we renamed a community of legal innovators. Perfect.
Debbie Foster (20:36):
That’s awesome. That’s great.
Connie Brenton (20:38):
Yeah, it’s an amazing school. If you ever have an opportunity, if you’re ever in Baton Rouge, you should stop by and get a tour.
Debbie Foster (20:44):
So the next thing that we wanted to jump into is our podcast is Powerful Leaders. No apologies. And some of that, the apology thing, we certainly don’t feel like no one, you should never apologize. But we do know from statistics and things that we’ve read and just observing women’s behaviors, that women have a tendency to apologize more than men. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. One of them is that our bar for what is offensive or what should be apologized for is much, much lower than a man’s bar of what they should apologize for. And we’d love to hear from you from an apology perspective. Do you feel like that is an issue that you’ve had in your career? Have you seen that from other women in the work that you’re doing? From a mentorship perspective? I’d love to just hear your thoughts on women and apologizing.
Connie Brenton (21:37):
You hit it spot on. One of my loves in my leadership career is to mentor it has turned out the last two were young women and we have had this conversation around stop apologizing multiple times. It is so ingrained in our speech that it almost becomes a filler word. Oh, sorry. Oh, sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m late. Sorry. So we have had pointed conversations around saying, I’m sorry when we really don’t mean, I’m sorry. And if you’re talking to another woman that, I’m sorry, has a different meaning than if you are talking in a business meeting or you’re talking in a mixed group, then it is inappropriate and it is disempowering. So I have spent many an hour coaching on stop apologizing, and it’s been very purposeful and useful both to those who I’m mentoring and also to myself.
Beth Thompson (22:52):
Thank you for trying to help eradicate this problem that we know exist.
Connie Brenton (22:57):
It does. It does exist. And good for you to be bringing it to the forefront because it is so common that we really stop even hearing it. You’re right, it’s like adding an to a sentence. You don’t notice it until you do. And then when you do, you notice it. It just stands out like crazy in any kind of conversation. But it has a tendency just to make you appear weak in a situation that you had no intention of that being your message.
Debbie Foster (23:35):
We’ve been even more aware of it just in our own, even in my interactions with Beth, I might start an email with, I’m sorry, and I’m like, wait, backspace, backspace, backspace. We’ve become more aware of it. I think it really is. There’s an awareness component because it is a bit of a filler word.
Connie Brenton (23:52):
Yes. That’s what it has become. And part of it is because it starts young. We start using that filler word very early. Girls do, girls and women.
Beth Thompson (24:04):
If you’re not corrected to your point, you don’t acknowledge that you’re doing it. But if you’re not corrected, but you’ve heard it around you so often you don’t know that it’s a bad thing or that it’s something you shouldn’t do. It’s just something you’ve heard. No one’s corrected you, so you continue to do it.
Connie Brenton (24:22):
I also think you don’t appreciate the impact it has on the listener ever so subtle, but it impacts your relationships. It impacts your influence, it impacts your mission, and you want to become a strong leader that others can rely on. And by accident you are undermining yourself.
Beth Thompson (24:47):
So in our last segment, we always ask our guest what their superpower leadership superpower is. You alluded to yours a little bit earlier, but I thought we would ask it again and let you elaborate a little bit on, or you can add to change your mind, whatever you want to do. Yeah, sure. What would you say your leadership superpower is?
Connie Brenton (25:07):
One of my superpowers is that I have an ability to create communities and I have a natural affinity to bring diverse people together to create an impact for themselves, an impact on the industry, an impact for the business. And I think it has its foundation in the fact that I really like people and it goes back to one of my five Cs. I care and I collaborate and I have the courage to speak up and say, let’s not do it this way, let’s do it that way. Even if it’s the most unpopular view in the room, let’s start clock. No. Oh, let’s move it forward. And I’m good at creating strong deep networks. Part of it is because I like people on the other part is I am willing to be vulnerable. And then I think the other one that I kind of have alluded to is I am good at starting in nourishing businesses.
There is not a business in the world that I don’t love. So if I go to buy a cookie, which I am a total cookie monster, if I go to buy a cookie and I’m having to win in line, I’m sitting there redesigning their entire process so that they could sell five x cookies and no one would have to wait. So that for me is fun. Starting businesses, creating new ideas, bringing new people together is absolutely in my d n and I love it beyond anything else. And so with legal ops.com, we’re getting another opportunity to start yet a new community and a new business. We’ve kind of wrapped that one up as a devil win.
Debbie Foster (27:02):
I love that. And I do the same thing. Beth does the same thing. We’ll go somewhere in the lines long and we’re like, what’s going on here? How could we make this better? There’s no way these people need to wait and we do the same exact thing. So Connie, thank you so much for being a guest on our show. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing about your recent diagnosis. I know there will be people listening to this. Like we talked about before, I don’t think anybody doesn’t know someone who’s gone through a breast cancer diagnosis. So thank you for sharing that with us. This has been really valuable and really impactful. Thank
Connie Brenton (27:34):
You. Thanks for having me.
Beth Thompson (27:39):
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network.
Debbie Foster (27:49):
And check out our show notes at affinityconsulting.com/powerfulleaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.