By Angel West | Trial attorney, Nyemaster Goode

Being a boss is not the same as being a leader. A boss gives orders. A leader listens and persuades her audience to follow.

Every time you walk into a room, you can be a leader. If half of life’s success is showing up, then the remaining 50 percent (with a little luck mixed in) relies on:


I am a trial lawyer. When selecting a jury for a trial, those three elements guide me.

Preparation gives me credibility with my audience. But to persuade an audience, you need to connect with them. You need some understanding of their perspectives and life experiences so your message resonates. The best way to get that is to listen and follow up.

In juror questionnaires, people share snippets of information about themselves. Lawyers try to discern whether they want a particular individual serving on their jury based, in part, on those snippets. The jury selection process allows me to ask my audience, prospective jurors, about their life experiences and viewpoints. It is critical to my job to pay attention to each juror and listen carefully. Frequently, what the jurors don’t say in their responses is the most telling, which is why follow-up is key.

Actively listening and following up with prospective jurors connects me to their needs and concerns. Engaging with them helps me understand the potential jurors’ perspectives and experiences.

That give-and-take enables me to make a personal connection with them that is essential to persuading any audience. That personal connection allows me to be the idea leader. What I learn in those initial interactions guides me in how I present my case. Ideally, that helps me persuade the jurors at the conclusion of the case.

The value of this three-prong engagement approach is not limited to trial lawyers. It applies to whatever your business is. When leading a meeting, making a presentation or having a one-on-one conversation, you need to know and read your audience to persuade them — and lead them.

Reading a room can be intuitive. For example, as a teenager, I organized soybean-walking crews in the summer. I didn’t need to ask questions to recruit my team. Summer income was our common goal. That was enough to persuade them to walk the fields starting at the crack of dawn.

Often, reading the room takes work. You must find the style and tone that work best for you. As a trial attorney — and a leader — I have learned to reach audiences with whom I have less obvious common ground. To be persuasive, you have to present your information, facts or argument to your audience in a relatable way.

Making that connection goes back to preparation, listening and follow-up. Using all three, you seed relationships and build consensus.

Being a lawyer has taught me that that the most important thing I can do is listen. Be prepared? Absolutely. But listening gets you to the next level. After you ask a question, stop thinking about the next question or your response. Just listen. Find common ground in the answer. The connections will follow  and so will your audience.

Angel West is a trial attorney at Nyemaster Goode in Des Moines. Among her achievements, West has been named one of the Top 250 female litigators in the United States for seven consecutive years. A native Iowan, West’s litigation practice includes class actions, products liability and commercial litigation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.