Joleen Hughes is the founder and principal of Hughes Media Law Group, which was launched in 2008 and offers clients legal services across a range of areas, including strategic advising, business formation and corporate oversight, and media and entertainment. She also is the host of the “The Lawyer Who Rocks” podcast, which features guests ranging from tech and media entrepreneurs to authors, musicians and venture capitalists.
Earlier in her career, Hughes was involved heavily in the Seattle grunge music scene of the 1990s, including owning her own music-production business. In fact, she was a booking agent for the iconic Seattle music venue RKCNDY, a now-defunct all-ages club that in the early 1990s hosted iconic bands like Pearl Jam and Radiohead.
Hughes is a graduate of the Seattle University School of Law and earned her undergraduate degree in communications and advertising from the University of Washington. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Hughes shares some insights about the challenges faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
Fortunately, my early career provided me with the opportunity to be mentored by two amazing female leaders who not only took me under their wing, but really provided me with a foundation of how to lead both men and women gracefully and with strength.
As the leader of several businesses, I have found the most effective leadership characteristics are grounded in three main components: 1. Strong decision making. 2. Creating a calm and stable atmosphere. 3. Developing talent through mentoring and passion for what you do.
With respect to strong decision-making, leaders (especially women and especially in Seattle) do not command respect without the ability to be decisive and positive about making decisions that impact a business. This is not to say that, as a leader, you don’t take advice and request help in reaching a decision. What I mean is, after taking account of the information needed to reach a conclusion, a great leader will guide the ship in the direction that makes sense for the business/organization and stand behind the course of action.
The calm and stable atmosphere, especially in a business where we guide and counsel businesses at so many different stages of growth, is essential for non-emotional, focused and learned choices. By eliminating drama and focusing your mind in a manner that encourages courteous, reasoned settings for navigating the task at hand, more positive work gets completed and less time is wasted on things that don’t matter.
Finally, I have found through my own experience of having mentors who really took time to learn about me and put me in a position where my background and experience were valued, that this is a trait I love to emulate. Many of my staff are mentored at an early stage ― from law school through to working as an attorney. Each of my employees have different talents and strengths, and I work with them on a weekly basis to encourage, push, train and cheerlead. I’m also passionate about how my business is changing the practice of law, and this hopefully rubs off on my staff both in their enthusiasm for working here and for serving our clients’ needs.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
I feel like at least a large percentage of it is mindset. Growing up, my parents never instilled in me the need for traditional gender roles/responsibilities. I was never encouraged to get married and have kids or to be the CEO of a company. My own ambition and drive led me to carve out careers in very male-dominated industries ― mainly because I have never let my gender enter my own mindset. I’m not naïve, and I can certainly name a few incidents where there has been discrimination, or inappropriate comments ― things all women have faced. However, I really try to focus on what I can control and not what I can’t. You can’t control how someone else is going to treat you or perceive you, so all you can do is forge ahead.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
Believe you can achieve, do the hard work, don’t make excuses and never give up. I think other proactive ways to help change the narrative on the people you cannot control is to get involved in organizations that cater to female executives and pay it forward. Mentor young women who are just starting their careers.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
The first lesson I learned was from my first female mentors, when I worked in the music industry. I had just put on a very large event, and the male tour manager had been awful to deal with ― demands, crazy behavior, etc. I held my ground (at age 21) and managed to win him over even after he called me a bitch. I told my mentor that I was called a bitch, because it made me feel bad. She said: “Take your power back. If you’re getting called a bitch at age 21, you are doing something right. You are standing your ground and behaving professionally.”
A lesson I learned from my other female mentor was in how to handle any situation with class and grace. We worked for a company with a notoriously volatile CEO, and watching her handle the situation and gain respect through calm observation, reasoned calculation and strong decision-making led me to where I am today. She became the most respected C-level executive on the team, and her extraordinary demeanor and intelligence has always been something I aspire to.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Seek out other female leaders to meet, have coffee, anything. I love nothing more than meeting with young leaders-to-be.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
There is not a day that goes by that I’m not doing this. I expand my contacts through volunteer work, charity work and doing the best job I can for my clients who refer me other clients.
What would you do differently in your career?
Not one thing.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
With my Siberian Husky Boudi and my husband ― somewhere in Washington State, exploring.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“The Lawyer Who Rocks.”
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Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.