This week I had the chance to catch up separately with two old friends who've both taken on leadership roles at their firms. As usual, these were opportunities to reconnect, but both conversations left me thinking about leadership.
The increasing rates of associate turnover came up and we discussed the very real costs this has for a firm. I've made the argument before that the best way to combat these losses -- of personnel, experience, revenue -- is to invest in leadership, but these conversations reminded me of what that often looks like in the firm. It isn't a collection of "legal Pattons" walking around barking orders, keeping the matters moving and the people 'in line.' Good leadership manifests in a firm as efficient, collaborative, and inclusive teams, where trust and respect flow in up and down the chain of seniority and are not just expected to be an offering to your 'superiors.' It manifests in firms whose values are reflected as much, or more, in how they operate as they are on websites and in marketing materials. Ultimately, good leadership manifests in a firm culture that people want to be a part of. Isn't that why you joined your firm? Why you stay? Why you talk to your friends in other places about joining you?
When was the last time a friend from outside your firm pitched you to join them because "the partners are great, the environment is collaborative, there are opportunities to grow, ... oh, and the firms making money"? When was the last time you made that pitch? Or are you courting and being courted only on the basis of the money? How long did you stay last time you moved just for the money?
Certainly, the firm's billables and attorney performance is important, but a strict focus on money obscures other variables that will make a bigger impact on firm culture and employee morale and performance. And how you make 'intensity' part of your culture has a lot to do with how often you'll need to ask for it.
Building an environment, a firm, that you and others want to be a part of -- and want to invite their friends to be a part of -- is a goal we can all aspire to, but aspirations are only worth the energy they're given to come to life. Decide why you stay and whether the leadership you get or the leadership you give is enough to keep others with you. And if it's already enough, where else do you want to take your team? If you see something better for your firm, call me, because I do, too.