I had the opportunity last week to reconnect with friends and executive coaching colleagues and to reflect a little bit on what makes someone successful as a leader -- whether that's in the corporate C suite, the non-profit board room, or a legal organization. As much as we read and talk about the skills necessary to manage our work and collaborate with our peers, the principle of 'being vs. doing' is often lost in the mix of specific action.
'Being vs. doing' is the idea that it isn't enough to simply know what a leader is supposed to do in their role. Knowing the skills is necessary, but not sufficient. You can do the 'right' things all day long and still fail to inspire the cohesion and trust that truly great teams have to sustain them through challenging circumstances. I saw this first-hand working with a leader responsible for an office of ten attorneys delivering on complex and interrelated projects during a time when project requirements and the legal environment driving them were changing dramatically.
Even though this leader was doing almost all the 'right' things, their team was struggling. Morale was low, trust among the attorneys on the team -- which had been very high prior to this person's arrival -- was degrading, and the projects the team was working on were barely getting done on time. There was a risk of the team collapsing. Even though the leader communicated clear expectations, spent time to get to know each person on the team, and did not shy away from carrying part of the grunt work, they struggled to build a truly successful team.
Despite more than fifteen years of practice, this attorney hadn't yet embodied their role as a leader. They were very good at doing leader things but were struggling at being a leader.
The being of leadership requires thought, reflection, and examination of your values and how those values connect with your work and your role within an organization. It doesn't require a sabbatical or substantial time away from your other commitments, but it does require intention. There are many ways to undertake the important work of developing your identity as a leader. Coaching often offers a fast-track to identity development because of the partnership created between coach and client, but it's not the only way. Self-study and journaling are other tools to facilitate reflection, and all can be useful.
Developing your identity as a leader, embodying being a leader, is crucial to creating teams and organizations that thrive because the absence of that embodiment is something your team can sense. When we do leader-y things just because it seems like the right thing to do, those words and actions fail to carry the unspoken messages that attach to our words and actions when we speak and act with conviction and purpose. The trust a team needs to facilitate collaboration and risk taking can't take root without the 'metadata' of conviction and purpose.
As your leadership journey continues -- whether that's taking the lead on your first deposition or stepping into a role of firm-wide responsibility -- be sure to do (or keep doing) the necessary acts of leadership, but also act on the intention to be the leader your team needs.