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Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations


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Post #720 – Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Great Leaders Always Give Feedback

Here's an exercise for you to try.  Take a blank piece of paper. Draw a vertical line straight down the middle.  On the left-hand side of the page, jot down five recent instances wherein you did NOT give someone feedback . . . when, in retrospect, you definitely should have.  This can be anything – from not confronting some partner who failed to follow through on their promises, to not telling your colleague how she could have handled a difficult situation far more diplomatically.

Now look at the first of your examples and in the right hand column write the reason you didn't say anything.  Do this for each situation.

I'll bet that the rationalizations you have cited in the right hand column are things like: "no time, it's not worth creating a fuss, why bother?” Or, “I've tried it before and nothing changed, I don't want to offend."  These are among the countless justifications we all use for doing nothing.

Let's turn this situation around.  If you were on the other end of a confrontation that someone thought you could have handled more effectively, would you want to know?  I think you probably would.  So what prevents you from providing frank and constructive feedback?

I guess the only legitimate reason would have to be that you either don't like this individual or you don't really care!

After all, there is only one legitimate reason you (and every great leader) should give feedback.  You give feedback because you sincerely want to help someone.  You're giving feedback because you are genuinely concerned for the individual.  You want them to do something differently in their best interests and for their benefit, not for yours.

Finally, there is a strong correlation between asking for feedback and leadership effectiveness. In a recent study of 51,896 executives by the leadership development firm Zenger/Folkman, those who ranked at the bottom 10% in asking for feedback (they asked for feedback less often than 90% of their peers) were rated at the 15th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.  Meanwhile, those leaders who ranked at the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated, on average, at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.


 

Post #719 – Saturday, November 1, 2014

Being An Effective Leader Is All About Relationships

It has been my observation, over the years, that many leaders rank low on empathy.  They understand it intellectually, they just don’t pay enough attention, ask the right questions or comprehend that it is not just about what your colleagues think, but about how they feel.  To be an effective leader you need to do more than just manage the bottom line and watch the numbers like a hawk.  Obviously that may be necessary, but so is offering suggestions, being supportive, being a source of creative ideas, helping your people think through their roles and helping them make the best use of their time.  If fact, that is precisely what the best leaders do.

As you think about how you exhibit genuine empathy here are five questions for you to contemplate.

• Do you show a genuine interest in what each of your professionals wants to achieve with their careers?

Think about each member of your team.  Have any valued members left recently or announced that they are about to?  Are some individuals, with a lot of potential, performing at levels far below where they should?  If your answer to either of these questions is affirmative, then the chances are that you may have neglected to pay attention to something these individuals need to jump-start their careers.  Paying close attention to what your professionals need in developing their careers is a critical part of any leader’s role.

• Do you show an interest in the things that mean the most to your people in their personal lives?

All of the people in your group have personal lives that are very important to them. Consider: do you explore with each of your people what they are keenly passionate about in their lives?  Do you ask questions that get them talking about their interests?  And when they do start talking about personal issues, do you show anything more than a perfunctory interest?

You may think, I’m not sure that people who have a professional working relationship really need to talk to each other about this kind of stuff.  What is unsettling to me is that the qualities it takes to develop and nurture any successful relationship, are the exact same as required to develop and nurture a successful team.  We may need to reflect upon whom we spend more time with during the average working week, our spouses or our office colleagues.

• Are you there for your colleagues in their times of personal or professional crisis?

Every so often all of us confront crises and make important transitions in our lives.  A family member goes into the hospital or a child is having a particularly difficult time at school.  These various personal issues can very naturally manifest themselves in professional behavior that suggests a sudden disinterest in the work or, at the other extreme, people who are burying their personal issues in workaholic traits.

Right now, as you read this, it is very likely that some member of your team is facing some significant crisis or transition.  If you are even aware of it, what kind of support are you offering?

• Do you informally “check-in” with each of your colleagues every so often?

Then there is the situations when work commitments get over-powering, when our internal systems seem to make it harder to get anything done, or when a technology glitch makes us wish for simpler times.  When these things happen, they don’t have a devastating effect, but they do preoccupy us.  One of the things that helps is having someone notice and say: “You look a little distracted. What’s going on?”

If a leader takes a few minutes to listen, something special happens.  We have a chance to “vent.”  It rarely solves the problem, but we usually feel better.  If you’re the person doing it, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.  But for the individual who is the fortunate recipient, it’s special.  It seems like you’ve been given a battery recharge just when you needed it.  Do you notice when team members are frustrated or distracted and take time to check in with them?

• Do you offer to help when some member of your team clearly needs it?

If your team is typical of ones I work with, you are very busy people and sometimes can find you’re stretched to the limits of your capabilities.  One of your team has just landed some monster project.  Meanwhile, two serious glitches have just cropped up that were never anticipated.  The question is, are you going to make some time available to help? And by help, I don’t mean a few minutes being a sympathetic listener for your teammate. I mean as busy as you are, are you willing to take on some of your colleague’s headaches to help him or her through a rough period?

If you truly seek to lead people I believe it all starts with determining whether you are prepared to spend time building and nurturing a relationship, above and beyond other urgencies.  One of the things I observe is that those who lead don’t always pay attention to the tremendously important role that relationships play in inspiring the success and satisfaction of those in their groups.



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:

Don’t get 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.

Don’t fail 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 deadly practice.

Don’t allow 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

Eight 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 run.

• 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 don’t materialize.

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

The 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:

In 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.

Therefore in any leadership succession process you need to pay particular attention to defining the criteria for selecting your next firm leader based on future performance ?requirements.

To 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.

Your 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 contexts.



Post #714 – Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

Rapid knowledge 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 careers.

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 ago? 

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 year? 

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 area.

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:
http://usa.ark-group.com/events-details.aspx?eid=166


Post #711 – Friday, July 25, 2014

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.

In other words, you need to always think through . . .
 

Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn


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