Leader2Leader | Elisabeth Von Eitzen & L. Marshall Washington, Ph.D.

Photo By
Hannah Ziegeler

Elisabeth Von Eitzen, partner at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, and L. Marshall Washington, Ph.D., president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, tell us their thoughts on mentorship, values, and more.


Von Eitzen: 1991 Mercury Tracer

Washington: An Oldsmobile ‘98


Von Eitzen: Narrator of a seventh-grade Shel Silverstein play

Washington: At church, in an Easter program


Von Eitzen: “How to Get Away with Murder”

Washington: “Bewitched”


Von Eitzen: Collaborative understanding is key. Warner Norcross + Judd is emblematic of that approach. We are all very team-oriented, and my leadership style is in line with that culture of teamwork and collaboration. I always ask for everyone’s thoughts and ideas first before I make a decision.

Washington: My approach to leadership includes being open and respectful. I make an effort to understand the life experiences of the people with whom I am working. People bring the culmination of their lives’ experiences to the workplace, which influences how we interact with one another. A variety of opinions is usually the best way to make a plan for success. The best leaders allow for and encourage a wide range of individuals to participate in the process of goal-setting and achievement.


Von Eitzen: For people to be motivated, they have to have a stake in the outcome. When I work with an associate, I could take two approaches. I could say, “You must do this, and you have to do it my way,” or I can say, “Here is our problem, and we need to come up with a solution. Let’s talk about strategy. What are your thoughts?” From there, we can develop a plan together. By involving someone in the project, you get a better product, more involvement, and a happier employee.

Washington: Receiving acknowledgment and accolades is motivating for me and for most of us. I’ve found that just saying “thank you” helps to create a positive environment. Plus, we’re learning to celebrate success in a variety of ways, which provides validation of the daily efforts, individuals, and teams at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.


Von Eitzen: My practice is primarily bankruptcy and litigation. I could have 30 to 40 cases going on at one time, so I have to make sure that I can manage everything correctly and not lose sight of a deadline. I still love my yellow legal pads that I write on by hand. I don’t use Outlook because I want the satisfaction of crossing things off.

Washington: I’m an avid reader. I love all kinds of books, from important New York Times bestsellers to books just for the fun of it, including comic books. Not only do I learn a lot, but I’m also able to relax and escape with a good story.


Von Eitzen: A mentor’s role is to be a guide. A mentor supplies the brush and the paint, but they shouldn’t actually do any painting. When I am in a mentoring role, I demonstrate techniques and then take a step back. For mentors, it’s really important to listen to your mentee; learn what their goals are, give them the tools to get there, and know that they have to find their own path.

Washington: People can be better leaders and mentors by being willing to be uncomfortable. Becoming uncomfortable means stepping out of our safe zones, embracing a diversity of ideas, and being willing to find solutions in new ways and through various styles of leadership. Being uncomfortable means being patient with the unrest change causes and believing that the long arc of time bends toward justice.


Von Eitzen: Leaders need to keep in mind how interconnected and meaningful moments can be. If you drop the ball or aren’t responsible even one time, the implications can have a huge impact. You end up hurting your clients, your colleagues, even your friends. Every business is built on relationships; someone is always relying on you—leaders need to take that seriously and humbly.

Washington: First and foremost, leaders need to be mindful of the people they lead, realizing that we are only as good and successful as those around us. Leaders need to stick to the tasks at hand and not get caught up in the chatter and chastisement of detractors. Ultimately, leaders are in service to those around themselves. Our faculty and staff, and all of us at the college, have the opportunity to impact thousands of lives each semester—we know that we are better when we serve together.


Von Eitzen: My biggest achievement is that I’m happy in all facets of my life. I have a great husband and great kids. I also have a career—not just a job—at an organization I appreciate, and that appreciates me back. I’m proud of finding everything I need to be happy. I’m blessed by that.

Washington: My relationships with my family and friends are my biggest achievements. Early in our marriage, my wife Tonja and I made creating a safe, loving, and stable home for our children our biggest priority. We’re proud of the fine adults our three children are becoming. Professionally, it brings me great joy to make investments in others, too. Part of the reason I chose to become an educator and now a college president was to have an impact on the lives of others.


Von Eitzen: I strive to be true to myself and what I hold dear. It all goes back to being authentic. Your leadership style has to be true to you. The best leaders are those who acknowledge their shortcomings along with their greatest achievements. That’s why it’s important for emerging leaders to find an organization that is aligned with their personal values and will allow them to grow.

Washington: A good leader needs to understand his or her strengths and lead with those strengths. It’s exhausting to try to lead in any other way. Communicating respect is also critical. I try to choose my words carefully to encourage those around me to help carry our initiatives forward. In those early days of learning to lead and speak in front of groups, I remember getting butterflies in my stomach—sometimes I still do, but I’ve gained confidence along the way.

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