I have noticed there are those “basement people” in life who bring me down, but fortunately there are also balcony people who lift me up with encouragement and inspire me to strive to be my best. Similarly, as I survey occupations, I have found that there “balcony” leaders who encourage those within their respective professions to be their best. The most effective leaders don’t do this with lip service; instead, they live out their values in their daily actions. I personally am always impressed with people who have been consistent over the long haul. They don’t wear the “white hat” as a marketing gimmick; rather they simply try to do the right things both big and small. The legal profession often takes a bum rap that it is full of unethical lawyers who are out to protect their own pocketbook rather than the interest of their clients. However, there are countless examples of lawyers of character and integrity who lift up the profession, and I take note in this column of two generations of lawyers who are balcony leaders that live this out in their daily practice.
York Craig III followed in his father York Craig Jr.’s footsteps to become a lawyer and now enjoys the opportunity to practice side by side with his father in the Ridgeland-based Craig Law Group, PLLC. The senior Craig is a former president of the Mississippi Bar Association, and has a built a long and distinguished career in the law in his over 38 years of practice. Craig III received a B.B.A. from Ole Miss in 1994, and went to law school on a Presidential Scholarship to Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. Upon graduation, he returned to his hometown of Jackson where he began his law practice with the former law firm Armstrong Allen. For almost 10 years, he worked as a lawyer with the Forman Perry law firm where he was a partner, and in June of 2011, he opened the Craig Law Group. He has been named by his peers as Mid-South Super Lawyers “Rising Star,” and he is also president elect of the North Jackson Youth Baseball league.
Craig III shared that he has been blessed to serve in a variety of leadership-type positions, and that “no matter the role in which I find myself serving, I am constantly reminded that life is the best teacher.” He also emphasized, “I am fortunate to be able to say that the example that my dad set as a husband, father, and man of God forms the foundation for what I try to be as a leader. The lessons I learned from him can’t be found in a manual or training seminar. Instead, to the extent that someone sees me as a ‘leader,’ I learned by closing my mouth, opening my eyes, and watching the man that came home to me every night.” Craig III also commented on his father’s example that “people that know him best know him to be a man of God that puts others before himself. He listens before he speaks and carries himself with a quiet confidence and peace that is truly contagious. By watching him, I have learned to pray daily for 4 qualities for my family and myself: wisdom, patience, compassion and humility.” These are truly qualities that we all need amidst our daily challenges of work.
What leaders like Craig III and his father have learned is that the greatest leadership challenge is learning to manage yourself. By recognizing their own shortcomings and imperfections, Craig III and his father know that they don’t have all the answers, but they seek to humbly serve and desire to put others first. Having watched both generations of the Craig family “walk the walk” for many years, I have been influenced by the senior Craig’s commitment to excellence in his profession, and I am excited to know that York III has embraced that same commitment to service and integrity. As a lawyer, I know that my profession will be better off for it, and I know that our state will benefit from having up-and-coming leaders like York III leading the way.
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.