Danielle DeCou Garno ’93

Among Friends   Spring 2015

Reflections on Ethical Leadership

These alumni are just a few of the many MFS graduates recognized as leaders in their specialties. We asked them to share their personal leadership styles, as well as their thoughts on how to remain ethical in positions of power. Whether they are standing up for civil rights or breaking the glass ceiling, alumni bring the lessons they learned at MFS with them into the workplace.

Danielle DeCou Garno

Danielle DeCou Garno ’93

• B.A. University of Miami
• J.D. Pepperdine University School of Law
• Shareholder and Attorney, Greenberg Traurig LLP
• Chair, Board for the SE Division of the Children’s Home Society of Florida
How would you describe your day-to-day work?

I am a partner at an international, multi-practice law firm serving clients from 37 offices globally, and I work out of our founding office in Miami. I am a member of the litigation department, and my practice focuses primarily on issues faced by the fashion community, including commercial contract disputes, employment issues, anti-counterfeiting, and trademark infringement.

A significant part of my daily practice is to serve as a trusted business advisor to my clients, which requires ongoing communications and delivering a high-quality work product.

How do you incorporate your views on leadership into your law practice?

It’s important that the people who work on my team not only enjoy what they are doing, but also understand what we are trying to accomplish and our overall strategy. When I was younger, it was hard for me to see the big picture when I was assigned a one-off task. Now, when I mentor young ambitious lawyers, I make a concerted effort to explain, “This is what we are doing, and this is just one small piece of a larger puzzle.” We couldn’t have the puzzle without pieces like them. Their work and their contributions are significant.

The legal profession is indeed stressful – and young associates tend to be tightly wound. I tell them, “I don’t expect perfection, but I expect you to try your best.” I expect things to be done in a timely manner, but I recognize that people make mistakes – I’ve made mistakes. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed. That’s something my mentor taught me, which I greatly appreciated, as it gave me room to breathe.

What are you most passionate about?

What I love most about law is interacting with people. We solve problems. People come to us when things aren’t necessarily going their way, and we help them navigate through a sticky situation. I love being able to help somebody do that. There’s so much more to law than litigation: it’s emotional, it’s dealing with people who are in a really stressful situation and trying to reassure them through a very tough process.

Outside of law, I currently serve as the Chair of the Board for the Southeastern Division of the Children’s Home Society of Florida. It’s a wonderful organization, and I love it. The program has an adoption and foster care component to it, but what I find to be the most attractive quality is the preventative side. It targets at-risk families, and it provides families in need with basic parenting skills, including how to cook, how to breastfeed, and how to change a diaper; it reinforces the importance of obtaining an education. The impact of this business model is critical, as it can help to prevent a child from going into the foster care system, thereby ensuring a better quality of life for the child at risk.

For those children who are taken out of their home unit, Children’s Home Society provides facilities. One of the things that I love most about the organization is that it won’t separate siblings: it always keeps them together. Often times, you’ll have seven, eight, or nine siblings staying in a children’s home together until they’re sent back to their families. It’s a very special organization. My board is full of motivated people who have a passion for children and for the cause. We organize a lot of events to raise both awareness and money for the charity.

Do you feel you’re able to find balance between your separate passions?

I’m not sure that it’s possible to achieve a perfect work-life balance. I think it’s more of a day-to-day process. I have four daughters: a six-year-old, a three-year-old, and one-year-old twins. I ask myself, what needs attention at the moment? Is it client issues, the nonprofit work, or something related to one (or all) of my kids? I have learned that you need to prioritize matters based upon the needs of that moment, that day, or that week.

It’s important to me that my daughters know that, as women, they can be successful. Their mommy works, and people rely on her. I want my girls to know that they can achieve whatever they want. I think that’s something Moorestown Friends instilled in me: that there is no limit. One of the things about the school that I liked so much is that the teachers really fostered us as individuals. They weren’t trying to put us into one mold, and we were all cherished and respected for our differences. That’s difficult to find at a school, but I try to instill that in my daughters, and that’s something that MFS definitely instilled in me.

Danielle DeCou Garno and family

Are there specific faculty or staff members who influenced you?

Joe McAleer, my tennis coach, really shaped my leadership style. He taught me that I wasn’t a tiny cog, but I was part of a larger machine. Tennis was in the fall, and I remember that our team would watch the geese flying south for the winter. Coach Mac would always say, “Look at the geese up there, remember this moment. You’ll look back and remember times like this and how special they are, and that you might never have them again.” I just turned 40, and he sent me a text saying, “Remember the geese?” I look back on those times with tremendous fondness. MFS is an incredibly special environment that you really don’t get anywhere else.

Do you feel that Quaker values have played a role in your life?

Quaker education taught me the importance of finding the Light of God in everyone. It taught me that you need to foster what is personal to you, and not become a lemming. MFS also taught me the importance of quiet. In my profession, everybody talks – litigators love to talk. It is important for me to have a moment to center myself. That comes with years and years of going to Meeting for Worship – sometimes I just need a moment to be quiet and to think.

I remember in fourth grade, my teacher Larue Evans would lead us in meditation exercises. To this day, I still do those exercises when I’m stressed. Mrs. Evans would have us lie down on the ground and close our eyes, and we would imagine that our bodies were empty jars and someone was slowly pouring water into us one drop at a time, until it filled up our toes. Her voice and the visualization of it has stayed with me. For a fourth grader, it was a pretty profound experience.

Do you have any advice for young people pursuing leadership roles?

I encourage everyone to do something that they are passionate about. If you are not passionate about it, then you are less likely to succeed.

 

Next: Martin Lehfeldt ’57 Reflects on Ethical Leadership