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Post #718 – Thursday,
October 16, 2014
Where Is Your Leadership Attention Directed?
As your firm’s leader, what you pay
attention to determines what your colleagues perceive to be most important. It
therefore follows that if you do not track what is going on outside of the
walls of your firm, you may soon be caught dealing with a priority that seems urgent
but is less important than the one you should be dealing with. Determining what you will pay attention to is
your first priority in effectively leading your firm. Here are a few challenges that you should not
loose sight of:
caught with your attention firmly fixed in the rear-view mirror.
Many firm leaders get so caught up in
the busyness of business, that they don’t take a good long look at the world
outside their firms. Concurrently, the
executive committee members also become consumed by these immediate issues, and
firmly enmeshed in the fierce urgency of now. Yet, the uncertainty and potential impact of
the future demands that we reallocate our attention - because disruptions in
the client environment can disrupt our business models with lightning speed.
Uncertain client demands, encroaching competitors, and new technologies can be
anticipated and managed only by routinely tracking them, even if they don’t
have any immediate impact on your firm’s performance. Executive committee
members must now spend some portion of their time reading, listening, and
thinking about the external environment. Even your senior administrative
professionals should allocate some amount of their precious meeting time to
looking out rather than in. Jim Collins
described the highest performers, as those leaders who were always looking out
the window to identify where success comes from and looking in the mirror to
find the source of failure. This trait
is especially valuable when dealing with an uncertain future.
to challenge assumptions until they bleed.
Many of us often don’t question our
beliefs when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. We continue to assume that
people will always read newspapers, buy music in stores and pay legal fees
based on a billable hour model. We
assume that our firms will work best with a practice group structure based on
professional competencies. We assume
that the United States will continue to be the global economic powerhouse and
that the US dollar will continue to be the global currency. These could be right or wrong assumptions, but
for every firm, whatever is assumed based on the past, is likely to be wrong
for the future. As comfortable as it is to determine your priorities based on
your past experience—and as much as it saves time and money — it is today, a
hubris to cloud your view of the future.
By definition, arrogance makes you
vulnerable to surprises. When you
convince yourself that you have the answer — that you have a winning formula
that will triumph in all circumstances — then something in the future is bound
to get you. As Murphy’s Law postulates,
“If something can go wrong, it will.”
Intel’s Andy Grove once insightfully
suggested that “sooner or later,
something fundamental in your business world will change.” The future humbles us all. The challenge for everyone is to look into an
uncertain future with a learner’s mindset and maintain flexibility.
Thank you CEO.com Newsletter
for featuring this among your recommended Leadership & Management Insights articles.
Post #717 – Friday, October 3, 2014
Undeniable Truths About Change
If your firm wants to initiate any kind of change, you need
to recognize and deal with some basic and undeniable truths. These are
things that can’t be avoided or changed (ironic), but can be mitigated,
leveraged and worked with – to enable change with more ease and less tears.
• Commitment to the past hinders change in the future. Like a tree’s roots, our hold on the way we do
things grows deeper over time. The success or failure of changes in the
past, your colleagues’ appetite for growth, and the culture of your firm all
help determine how deep the roots go and how hard it will be to change.
• Effective communication demands quality and quantity. Effective communication is critical during any
change effort. Honesty, organization, consistency and responsiveness all
will help ensure that communications are supporting the change. You can
say that again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and again!
• Your actions always speak louder than your words. What you do and say has far more influence
over the success or failure of a change than anything else. Your colleagues
are constantly watching you (not just in scripted moments) for cues.
• People support what they help create. The movie “Field of Dreams” was close but not
exactly right. It is not, “If you build it, they will come,” but rather,
“If they build it, they will come.” No one ever gets excited about,
enthusiastic for or willingly supports any direction, strategy or change . . .
that they themselves have not had a part in formulating. Your people
inherently connect with something they help build. Engaging your
colleagues in the change effort, early on, will pay big dividends in the long
• Firms change only when the people within the firm change. It truly does take a village. All
professional service firms are, in essence, groups of people. If your
firm is going to change, a critical mass of the partners within your firm need
to go through an individual change process – first.
• Resistance is inevitable. You probably heard it first back in your high
school physics class, when Newton said it . . . “An object at rest tends to
stay at rest.” There are personal, structural and physiological reasons
to resist change. Firms that expect and deal with resistance proactively
will experience the most effective changes.
• Connecting to the head and the heart builds commitment. In spite of being highly analytical, your pcolleagues
are not purely rational. They need to have a rational recognition of the
need to change, as well as a deeper emotional connection to believe in what the
change is all about. Winning the hearts of those who will experience the
change will make all the difference.
• Sustaining change takes support and reinforcement. As your firm changes, you are not in Kansas
anymore. Those that make change stick make sure they are hiring,
training, developing, measuring, rewarding and communicating with people in
ways consistent with the new model rather than the old practices.
Post #716 – Monday, September 15, 2014
The Fall 2014 Issue
of International Review is Now Available
International Review is my 24-page glossy, printed magazine
distributed to over 1600 law firm chairs and managing partners throughout North
America. Our Fall issue begins with a
piece entitled, Perspectives On Firm
Strategy which contains seven thought-provoking ideas on everything from
becoming distinctive to quantifying and communicating real value to clients.
In our First 100 Days program (see back cover) we introduce
new firm leaders to the monumental task of taking the reins of leading their
firms. When Firm Leaders Transition provides prescriptive counsel and
specific steps to both the departing firm leader and their successor on what
they need to do to facilitate an effective transition.
Once again, my good friend and colleague Ed Reeser joins me
in The Question of Partner Compensation
Guarantees cautioning how, while providing guarantees can be a legitimate
transitioning tool for incoming laterals, these same guarantees can also
present firms with some real problems when best intentions and future forecasts
Finally, Create Your
Stop Doing List is some straight-forward guidance on how to keep the urgent
from crowding out the important, while Integrating
Laterals provides pragmatic advice on how to best integrate the key talent
that you have spent so much time, effort and expense attracting to your firm.
As always, I sincerely hope that you find practical ideas,
tips and techniques here that you can put to use immediately. Please send me your observations, critiques,
comments and suggestions with respect to any of these articles.
Click on the Cover to download your complimentary PDF copy
of the magazine.
Post #715 – Tuesday,
September 2, 2014
The Critical Step in
Firm Leadership Selection
latest issue of American Lawyer magazine is out featuring an 8-page cover
article (“Meet The New Boss”) that deals with the many complexities of
leadership succession. I was honored to
be interviewed by the author, provide materials, as well as contribute
substantively to the “How To Succeed At Succession’ side bar. One point that needs to be emphasized even
more than in this article is the following:
any effective leadership selection process, before you can begin discussing the
“who,” your executive committee/ board must agree on the strategic direction of
your firm in light of trends and discontinuities that your firm may be facing
in the future. It follows that if the members
of your executive committee cannot agree on strategic direction, they will have
even greater difficulty agreeing on the requisite capabilities they require
from their next firm leader.
in any leadership succession process you need to pay particular attention to defining the criteria for selecting your next firm leader based on future
go beyond generalities, your executive committee / board has to identify the
very specific effect it wants the next Firm Leader to have on the firm’s
business and define the skills that it will take to accomplish that. A law firm delivering solid but unremarkable
profitability, for example, may want the next firm leader to refocus on high
value practices or lean toward selecting a strong operator with a record for
overseeing a cost efficient operation.
Even a firm that has delivered consistently high performance versus its
peers must evaluate which candidate has the greatest likelihood to help the
firm continue to outperform, but also find ways to innovate, drive value-distinctiveness
and avoid the complacency that can come with success.
firm’s ability to predict your next leader’s success requires a frank view of each
candidates’ readiness, including an understanding of their development needs
based on the future direction of the firm, and the likelihood of their being
able to close those gaps suitably and in a reasonable amount of time. Specifically, a rigorous review of an
individual’s competencies, including the observations of others who can
validate their performance in current and past roles, can reveal whether
candidates have the relevant experience.
However, it is not enough to look at just the attorney’s past
accomplishments. Your executive
committee / board should also strive to gain an understanding of each candidates’
analytical capabilities, social intelligence and self-awareness — all skills
that speak to their EQ and ability to succeed in more complex and demanding
Post #714 – Tuesday, August
Your Recipe For Becoming More Valuable
How do you go about making
yourself more valuable today than you were yesterday? In today’s world, you have to continually
assess your skills and adapt them to match up to the evolving needs of your
target markets. You need to consider the
following if you ever hope to keep pace:
Skills are more specialized.
growth means it is increasingly difficult for professionals to keep on top of
everything they need to know. You need
to specialize; knowledge micro-niches are the reality for most enduring
Skills are degradable.
The half-life of knowledge
is decreasing at a furious rate. Professionals
and their firms are painfully discovering that many of their skill offerings
are becoming commoditized at an ever-accelerating rate.
Skills can be transferred.
The boomer retirement issue
is real. Of the 6,800 partners that
occupy positions in large law firms today, nearly 20% are just a few years away
from or have already surpassed the mandatory retirement age; and usually
represent well over 50% of the revenue your firm generates. Smart
firms are spending serious money to ensure that the important knowledge of
senior practitioners is being captured, codified, retained and archived.
Skills are increasingly portable.
That's the thing we've
learned with globalization. With clients
sensing that certain skills are readily available, they’ve learned about
outsourcing their various requirements.
It doesn't really matter to them where the skills are, as long as they
can procure them when needed. Not
exactly good news for you.
Skills are renewable.
Fortunately, the expiry date
on your skills can be extended. If you
can develop a mind-set and discipline toward constant improvement and invest
some portion of your precious and finite time in developing new skills, you can
adapt and evolve.
So, here is your personal
and career building ACID-TEST: What is it that you know
today, as we approach the final months of 2014 that you didn’t know one year
Or, put slightly
differently: What is it that you can
actually do for your clients today, that you couldn’t do at this time last
If your answer is “not much”,
then bless you, but you may quickly be on your way . . . to becoming obsolete!
Post #713 – Monday, August 4, 2014
The New Boardroom
Concern: Cybersecurity Risk
Looking at the latest issue of Corporate Board Member, 500 directors and general counsel responded
to a survey request and identified the trends in their 2014 Law In The
Boardroom study. The top trends involved
ongoing concern over new issues such as IT/cyber risk, shareholder engagement,
and social media.
According to the report, IT and cyber risks are among the most dangerous threats a company faces,
and often the hardest to spot. They also
tend to be the most expensive, with the U.S. leading nine other nations in
average total organizational cost per breach and, along with Australia, the
largest average number of breached records. Accordingly, corporate board audit committees
are taking a greater interest in cybersecurity risks and the organization’s
plans for addressing them. More than 50%
of directors ranked IT strategy and risk—behind only strategic planning—as the
issue for which they need better information and processes to be as effective
in their jobs as possible. Forty-four
percent of general counsel agreed. This
is also an area where directors and GCs questioned each other’s abilities: 38%
of directors found GCs only somewhat effective at IT/cyber risk oversight;
similarly, 37% of GCs said the same about the board’s effectiveness in this
While 45% of GCs
and 43% of directors have confidence in their company’s response plan in the
event a breach in security occurs, 34% of general counsel and 27% of directors
are not convinced their company is secure and impervious to hackers. Perhaps more troubling, though, is the fact
that fully one-quarter of directors and GCs surveyed believe their company is
well shielded against hackers, which brings into question how well cyber and IT
risks are really understood.
Post #712 - Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Stimulating Innovation In Law Firms
It is ironic that almost every law firm, somewhere on their web site, will reference themselves as being an innovative, entrepreneurial firm. And yet, whether you are dealing with a business entrepreneur or a law firm partner, upon first hearing about a new idea or strategy, both will respond with the very same question. "Please tell me who else is doing this?"
The question is the same BUT the motivation for asking is very different. The partner needs to be reassured that some other law firm out there, that they may have a modicum of respect for, has done this and most importantly, experienced some success. For the business entrepreneur, the motivation in asking this question is completely different … they just want to know because if someone else has already done this, they likely aren't interested. It's already been done!
The time has come for law firms to create structures within the firm aimed precisely at innovation - groups whose job it is to solve difficult problems through creative business processes, a reinterpretation of the firm's position in the marketplace, new technologies or alternative staffing models.
Join Andrew Smulian (Chairman and CEO of Akerman LLP), Ken Grady (CEO of SeyfarthLean Consulting), John Paris (Chair of Williams Mullen Innovation Committee) and me for a one-hour Webinar – TOMORROW – Thursday July 31st hosted by Ark.
More details are available here:
Post #711 – Friday, July 25,
Signal What You Value As A New Leader
One of the more profound things I’ve learned, that I try to pass
along to new leaders, be they managing partners or practice heads, is to “act
like you are on stage at all times, because you are!” Everything you do and say
will send messages, set tone, establish expectations, and communicate direction
about what is of priority to you. With that in mind, you need to carefully
orchestrate what symbolic acts you may want to execute to create a lasting
impression and convey what you stand for.
other words, you need to always think through . . .
my entire article as posted on LinkedIn
Post #710 – Thursday, July
Create Your ‘Stop Doing’ List
Many new firm leaders severely underestimate the time
that is going to be required of them to really do their job. In fact, a recent Citibank/HBR 2014 Client
Advisory, provided a commentary under the title: The Leadership Challenge.
According to the report, “One development which gives us concern is that
some of the newer breed of leaders continue to maintain busy, full time
practices. In this scenario, their clients’ needs are likely to take priority,
to the detriment of the management of the firm. If we could see any change, it
would be that firms recognize that to be effective, the firm leader is best
performed as a full time role.”
Indeed, the biggest issue I hear about is always the
amount of time it takes to do the leadership stuff. Many are not full-time managing partners so
they struggle with trying to maintain some balance between the time needed to
manage the firm and the time required to maintain some modest personal
Here's a tip that I’ve been talking about for some
time now: Create a Stop Doing List.
Take a look at your desk. If you're like most hard-charging firm
leaders, you've got a very lengthy and well-articulated to-do list. We've all been told that leaders make things
happen – and that's true. But it's also
true that great leaders distinguish themselves by their unyielding discipline
to stop doing anything and everything that doesn't fit. And that’s not easy. We all get a personal sense of satisfaction
every time we check something off of our to-do list. Our only failing is that the things that we
are checking off are the easy tasks, like perhaps responding to some email, and
probably not the things that will advance our personal strategic goals as firm
leader or significantly change the firm. There is where the urgent crowds out the
So how can you go about re-focusing your To-Do list?
Read my entire article as
posted on LinkedIn
Post #709 – Tuesday, July 1,
The Vaporization of A Leader’s Legacy
the specifics, as a new firm
leader you know that some
change is likely going to be needed to make your firm better.
course, some things are more changeable than others. One thing that all new
leaders are taught is to explore and execute in those areas where you can
achieve a quick, early, small win to build credibility. One obvious way to do that is to target those
things that can be changed most easily.
By contrast, some meaningful changes are far more difficult and slow to
see results appear. Consider, for instance, how difficult it might be to
reshape your firm’s culture into a more collaborative environment. In all likelihood it could take years and a
significant investment of time. Little
wonder we tend to avoid taking on such a difficult challenge, preferring instead
to embrace those things which can more easily be changed.
herein is the paradox of any leader’s legacy. When the next firm leader comes
along after you, what will she try to change? Chances are, like you, the
next leader will look to change those things that can easily be changed.
And those will be precisely the things that you changed.
We and our successors change that which can be changed, each undoing the work
of the one before him. You feel a sense of accomplished at the moment of
change, and so will the professional who comes along tomorrow and undoes all of
your work. Ironically, although you feel you have made a difference, if you look back in few years, you may see little evidence of your efforts. So
much for your legacy!
* * * * *
So, if you are
someone who is about to take the reins at your firm or know some lawyer fitting
that description, here’s an article that should peek your/their interest: “Firm Leadership Is NOT For Wimps!” – http://www.patrickmckenna.com/pdfs/Wimps.pdf This article identifies eight truths that I know to be valid
based on anecdotal evidence gleaned from countless discussions and interviews
with firm leaders much wiser than I.
And, if you are (or know of a
firm) facing a firm leadership transition or even having a new office managing
partner taking charge of one of the larger offices, please have a look at: www.first100daysmasterclass.com The next program is scheduled for
Thursday, AUGUST 14th at the University of Chicago and we are now accepting registrations. Have a look at the day’s agenda, the faculty,
the testimonials, the extensive course materials, the follow-up support and
your total satisfaction guarantee.
Thus far, over 60 firm chairs and managing partners
have already experienced and can attest to the benefits of this program. In fact, we received these gracious comments from a couple of those
attending our First 100 Days session:
"I was struck by the synthesis of the issues
you presented. It was amazingly clear and comprehensive, given the
breadth of the topic and the short time available. I was delighted to
attend the event and I learned a lot from it."
Hugh Verrier, Chairman - WHITE & CASE
"The First 100 Days Masterclass was
concise and insightful. I quickly learned the difference between being a
practitioner and a Firm Leader. I was thoroughly impressed with the scope
of the topics discussed.
One year later - I continually refer to that
one day class as the best thing I did to prepare for my new role."
Vincent A. Cino, Chairman - JACKSON LEWIS
Few experiences can be as overwhelming as taking on the firm
leadership role for the first time. We
repeatedly hear about how everything changes in unexpected ways. It is not about shifting from being an office
head or member of the executive committee to the next rung on some leadership
ladder, it’s a quantum leap into a new reality.
Brand new firm leaders need all the practical, impartial and time-tested
advice they can get.
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