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Growing Leadership in Your Law Firm - Here's Your Plan

Once you've taken that first hard step and decided you want more out of yourself and then assessed where you're starting, you have to figure out how to get from here to there. Turning the 'leadership constellation' you developed into a chart to guide your progress really is as simple as connecting the dots.

Mongolian Star Chart at Wuta Si (Five Pagoda Temple) by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D.

The key is to work methodically. Luckily, solving a problem methodically is what you're trained to do. Realize that your actions in a given situation will be influenced by your thoughts and feelings, so the first step to adjusting how you operate should be examining and, as necessary, adjusting how you're thinking.

  • What is the truth of your situation? Do your perceptions accurately reflect what is happening, or does your interpretation of a situation include assumptions about others?

  • Is it possible to confirm whether your first perception/interpretation was accurate? Is that the only interpretation?

  • Notice how you are thinking and feeling about the situation. What does this situation mean, and what does it mean to you? Might it mean something else?

  • How many alternative interpretations are available?

  • If it means something else, now what? How does a different meaning change how you feel?

  • Does choosing or acknowledging another interpretation give you alternatives in how you feel and act?

You may feel overwhelmed at first, especially if feedback from those around you identified blind spots in how you are approaching your work or your team. Sometimes, those blind spots will become apparent through the attention you put toward your self-assessment. For example, in taking a close look at how often and in what ways you interact with each attorney in your practice group, you may realize you have been inadvertently side-lining your two newest laterals because you're worried about them jumping ship from your firm. While you need to be mindful of protecting the firm's client's, you also need to make sure that you're bringing all the firm's resources to bear for those clients. You need to make sure your new laterals are working the right matters, especially where their unique skills and backgrounds can add particular value.

In this example, 'here' is potentially leaving the client underserved and increasing the risk of your laterals leaving the firm -- the very thing you're worried about -- because of lack of engagement. 'There' is an environment where your new laterals are engaged in meaningful work that plays to their strengths (helping protect the firm from the costs of associate turnover) and your clients recognize they are getting the best of your team (helping protect against poaching, from both other firms and departing associates). Getting from here to there doesn't happen overnight. It happens by first seeing the difference between those two states and then choosing one thing to work on at a time.

How you're thinking about your associates may be a good place to start because it will inform and influence how you act in other ways going forward. Consider whether your thoughts are in alignment with your values or the firm's espoused values. Do those values include something like, "collaboration across practice areas in order to maximize client service?" Your thoughts about your associates will drive how you interact with them, and actions incongruent with the firm's values will give them the sort of professional dissonance that drives them to another firm. (Besides, depending on your firm, most associates will not make partner and you should lead them with that truth in mind. Thoughts for another day...)

Start with your own thoughts, and have conversations with your associates to determine whether your assumptions about them are accurate. Those conversations probably won't be explicit questions about whether or when they are planning to leave the firm, but getting to know them and their goals will give you some insight into what sort of professional trajectory they are aiming for. From there, you can shape the experience you and your firm create for them.

Follow this pattern, choosing one blind spot or area for growth at a time. Enlist peers and mentors to help because accountability in this process will accelerate the changes you are after. Of course, I recommend a coach to provide detached guidance and accountability along the way. This is what BKG Leadership Coaching is all about. Set up a Legal Leadership Strategy Session. I will help you start connecting the dots and give you some steps you can take to get started, and we'll find out if I'm the right coach for you. Start charting your path today.



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