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Post # 954
People Follow Your Example - Make it Meaningful.
In order to be an effective leader you need to make yourself HIGHLY VISIBLE in a myriad of different ways and use that exposure to reinforce what you believe in, what direction you believe your firm or team should be headed, and how you intend to get there. As a leader, you have at your disposal a wide variety of “trivial tools” embedded in your daily message sending and receiving activities that can be used to energize and influence.
SPENDING TIME: Nothing speaks louder about what is important than where and how you choose to spend your time, which is not a matter of chance. You make choices daily about what to do and with whom. From that meeting on business development issues to the selection of which particular performance measures to track on a regular basis, those of your choices made over time, send signals to your colleagues about what you believe to be really important. Start spending 30 to 40% of your time on your most important strategic priority. Book up your calendar for the next quarter with activities that demonstrate your interest in and concern for that priority. AND, consider turning your colleague’s eyes to new horizons with a formal system of “Strategic Forums” designed to formally force regular discussions on key issues facing your team.
BEING HANDS ON: One of the enduring questions, a subject of endless analysis, is how a large firm can best monitor operations spread over many geographical locations. One firm leader I know reduces all of those elaborate mechanisms to plain, old fashion face-to-face contact. He visits each of thirteen offices four times a year, meeting with different groups and support staff. What is your plan for providing hands-on leadership?
GIVING RECOGNITION: Find those professionals who are doing something that you wish more of your people were doing and hold them out as models of moving in the right direction. Let everyone get a clear idea of what behavior you most admire. Effective leadership concentrates on reinforcing and rewarding actions consistent with stated direction. “What receives recognition is clearly what is valued.” People are keenly attuned to what is accorded recognition, even the most trivial manifestations.
AGENDA MANAGEMENT: Every leader holds numerous meetings, and every meeting has an agenda, whether written or unwritten. The cumulative content of these agendas clearly signals priorities and concerns. The conscious management of your agenda, and your input into any group meeting agenda, is another powerful signaling device. Also, those items that get your swift and detailed follow-up will always be perceived by people to be of real value. And do not ever forget that the specific words used and the pattern of questions you ask, have an enormous impact on your team’s focus. You need to manage those patterns. People will just naturally read meaning into them. Why not target for what you want?
Post # 953
Where Leadership Training Falls Short!
To be very specific, here are SEVEN distinct shortcomings I hear about and personally observe where I have to conclude that leadership training is all too often, an unfortunate waste of money. Fortunately, all of them can be corrected:
1. Training that has no connection to the job responsibilities
2. Training that’s too theoretical
3. Training not focused on behavior
4. Training that doesn’t address real-world issues participants are facing
5. Training that is only for the newest leaders
6. Training compressed into snack-sized portions
7. Training with no action element
Naturalist William Henry Hudson once observed: “You cannot fly like an eagle with the wings of a wren.” Along that same theme, I fear that far too many leadership training efforts are theoretical, don’t address or change behavior, with content that is poorly delivered, and WITHOUT an action element integrated into the firm.
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Post # 952
What Should Industry Team Leaders Be Responsible For?
I received the following query: “I read how a number of law firms have worked hard to brand themselves as having deep industry focus and how ‘it has been enormously successful,’ but how does one determine what specific leadership requirements / factors / defined expectations will help to generate effective industry group results?”
MY RESPONSE: By way of example, here are 10 specifics that I believe should be articulated as performance expectations for every Industry Team Leader:
• Has responsibility for FULL P&L of their group and will be compensated / bonused based on the performance of the current year compared to past results.
• Has developed with the input of all core members, a formal written strategy for growth, including identifying three market niches that the group is or will be actively working upon to become a DOMINANT PLAYER;
• Conducts one monthly meeting with all core members to REVIEW STRATEGIC PRIORITIES, and provides the written minutes (list of actions showing who is working on what) to the Executive Committee;
• Conducts a further monthly meeting specifically for the purposes of monitoring and discussing new developments and INDUSTRY TRENDS that prompt emerging disruptions or potential opportunities; and prepares an information briefing for clients;
• Engages Core Members by conducing ONE-ON-ONE COACHING sessions with each member every month, that results in specific written and agreed upon action plans to build skills and share knowledge;
• Will have identified specific expertise or SKILLS NEEDED within the group and potential lateral candidates to ensure appropriate depth and diversity of experience going forward;
• Shows evidence of active participation in the industry (meets with industry leaders, attends industry events) and has a formally constituted INDUSTRY ADVISORY BOARD that meets three times a year with the entire industry group;
• Shows evidence of BOARD LEVEL INVOLVEMENT in Industry Organizations and Associations and has identified and mentored at least two other core members to also become involved;
• Displays examples of the group’s collective efforts to help build both the group and the firm’s brand and reputation throughout the industry, including at least a quarterly newsletter, podcast, webinar or other form of timely COMMUNICATIONS;
• Has had published a minimum of three THOUGHT LEADERSHIP articles within recognized industry media and worked to encourage others in the group to also be publishing articles covering proprietary research or new developments within the industry.
YOUR TAKE AWAY: I believe that if it is not specific and not measurable, nothing much is likely to happen. So now, how many of these would your Team Leaders, if I were to ask, tell me that this is indeed an expectation that has been clearly set out for them?
Post # 951
Being a Leader Is Actually All About RELATIONSHIPS.
HERE’S THE THING > 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 on their team. And might this have something to do with WHY you lose good people?
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. As you think about how you exhibit genuine empathy here are five questions for you to contemplate.
1 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. Are some individuals, with a lot of potential, performing at levels far below where they should? Providing personal COACHING and paying close attention to what your professionals need in developing their careers is a critical part of any leader’s role.
2 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. 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 teammates.
3 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. Right now, as you read this, it is very likely that some member of your team is facing some significant issue or transition. If you are even aware of it, what kind of SUPPORT are you offering?
4 Do you informally “CHECK-IN” with each of your colleagues? There are those 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. Do you notice when team members are frustrated or distracted and take time to check in with them?
5 Do you OFFER TO HELP when some member of your team clearly needs it? And by help, I don’t mean sparing a few minutes to be a sympathetic listener. 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?
Post # 950
Leadership Reflections for The Remainder of 2022.
Looking back over these past six months and the leadership legacy you have been creating . . .
• What do you need to LET GO OF or complete before the year is over?
• What type of personal EXAMPLE have you set for others during this past year?
• Did you handle those sensitive and difficult situations in ways you would want your team / firm members to REMEMBER?
• As you look at your personal day-timer over the past months – how did you spend your TIME and what message do you think you sent your people about what it is that you really value?
• What specific initiative did you successfully put in place that helped your team / firm pursue EXCELLENCE?
• As you reflect upon those of your competitors that are doing exceptionally well, how might you INCORPORATE some of the things they accomplished into your team / firm?
• Looking to the remainder of 2022, is the climate you are creating within your team / firm conducive to INNOVATION or is the prevailing attitude one of calculated mediocrity?
• What specific goal have you set for yourself, and how will that goal stretch your thinking and your ACTIONS going forward?
Post # 949
Why Many Leaders Are Unknowingly Delusional
I came across an extensive study on leadership effectiveness conducted by Stanford University’s School of Business which concluded that about 15% of one’s success in leading organizations comes from technical skills and knowledge, while 85% comes from the ability to CONNECT WITH PEOPLE and engender trust and mutual understanding. The problem however lies not in this remarkable data, but with those who think they already have what it takes!
The real issue lies in delusional thinking about our people-handling competence.
Reality likely belies your self-assessment. Over 96% of leaders today believe they have “above average” people skills. This is a statistical improbability. It is what psychologists call motivated reasoning, which means that once we decide something is true (for whatever reason) we make up reasons for believing it to be true. Most of us believe we are smarter, fairer, more considerate, more dependable and more creative than average. But we cannot all be “above average.”
This is not behavioral; it is neurological – it is hard-wired into the brains of normal, healthy people like you and me.
Studies confirm that 75% of North American leaders believe they are “BETTER” than others in their industry - thus, 90% of physicians, investment bankers, AND lawyers (specialists who cannot afford to second-guess their decisions) rate themselves in the top 10% of their field, and even 94% of university professors say they are above average teachers. Simply put, successful people are incredibly delusional about their skills and, as Andy Grove (the former Chair of Intel) once advised, “Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure.”
The most important leadership skill is the ability to genuinely listen to people. Most of us assume we do this quite naturally. THINK AGAIN.
Research confirms that the listening proficiency level of over 95% of people tested falls between 15 and 29%. (And our tendency to think we are good at multi-tasking has likely dramatically reduced those percentages.) Listening is a skill. It can be learned and therefore improved. Unless, like others, you assume you are “above average” and don’t require such training . . . a choice that may be ego gratifying but also delusional!
Post # 948
Amplify Your Leadership Communications.
If we can infuse these 12 practices into every leader's drinking water, we will help satisfy a great deal of what their colleagues are thirsting for.
• Avoid assuming that your communication or behavioral style is the one everyone else has and learn to MODIFY your style to the style of others. Adhere to the principle that “communication is not what is said, but what is received.”
• Show up and play to the heart. Communication that is high-touch, low-tech inspires people to action faster than the one-way data-dump, the presentation, the dry facts. If you want buy-in, find the passionate story, do the road show, and make it INTERACTIVE.
• Be GENUINELY INTERESTED in the needs of others and be interested in the growth of others, even more so than the others are at times.
• Infuse a need to grow by TEACHING . . . rather than simply giving the answers.
• FUSS over others’ events, interests, activities, achievements, families, and friends.
• Find the real meaning, stop hiding in your office, and GET WITH the people.
• Become clear and comfortable with the FACT that leadership does NOT mean “being the smartest or being the most popular one on the playground.”
• Believe that people do what they get paid attention for, and be spontaneous, as well as scheduled in YOUR RECOGNITION efforts; but avoid giving a public person, private recognition as they will see little or no value in it.
• Maintain an awareness of just how much your body communicates and remember that your body CONTINUES talking long after your lips stop moving!!!
• Do before talk, ask before tell. Almost all leaders over-talk and under-do. If you want people to make a change, DEMONSTRATE the change yourself first. Ask a lot of questions and listen well (it's why you have two ears and one mouth, right?).
• FIX SOMETHING that is driving your colleagues crazy. You want more innovation? Show them an innovative idea you carried out. Want to cut costs? Cut one of your entitlements first. Anything less will be viewed as insincere and arrogant -- even though you are infinitely well-intended.
• Create goals that are both realistic and UNREALISTIC. Commit your goals to writing and ensure that they are measurable, and then celebrate the achievement of each goal.
Exhibit leadership traits as part of who you are, not what your particular title is; and finally . . .
“Give yourself permission to leave things undone and let go of needing to be perfect, and of needing everyone else to be perfect”
Post # 947
Assessing Whether You Have an Effective Industry Focus
I received the following query: “How would we know whether we are taking the right steps in shifting some of our firm’s attention to a few client industries?”
Here are a dozen questions, I have often used in workshops to help Executive Committees self-assess whether the key issues that need to be considered are being addressed and what issues may require remedial action:
#1: Does our firm truly understand how much importance our CLIENTS PLACE ON INDUSTRY knowledge?
#2: Does our firm leadership really believe that industry knowledge has a direct and meaningful impact on our overall FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE?
#3: Has our firm made definitive decisions about which SELECTIVE INDUSTRIES TO STRATEGICALLY TARGET and focus on?
#4: Has our firm organized and actively recruited PARTNERS TO join and COMMIT a specific number of non-billable hours to working on ONE chosen industry team?
#5: Does each industry group have a leader (or co-leaders) TRAINED to manage, coach, support and facilitate the group’s initiatives?
#6: Does our firm have any formal programs and budgetary RESOURCES AVAILABLE to develop the industry competence and expertise of the partners?
#7: Does our firm have industry focused RESEARCH PROGRAMS that monitor and identify emerging industry trends?
#8: Has each industry group developed a formal, written STRATEGIC PLAN identifying specific niche opportunities, where they are working to develop a position of dominance?
#9: Has our firm assigned specific MARKETING professionals to SUPPORT each of the industry teams?
#10: Does our firm make an active effort to capture and LEVERAGE the industry specific intellectual KNOWLEDGE gained from client engagements?
#11: Are industry competence and expertise assessed and tied directly to our LATERAL RECRUITMENT efforts in order to build upon the industry group’s market strength?
#12: Does our firm report and ASSESS PERFORMANCE by industry (fees, profitability, growth, partner contribution, partner promotion, compensation decisions, etc.)?
You are welcome to learn more about having an effective industry focus by downloading and reading my newest book (17 Chapters / 290 pages) entitled - "INDUSTRY SPECIALIZATION: Making Competitors Irrelevant"
Your copy may be accessed here with my compliments: https://bit.ly/3KrrXwf
Post # 946
Beware The Zombie Client!
Inflation hit a new 40-year high of 8.6% in May. High inflation has forced the Federal Reserve into what will likely be the fastest series of interest rate hikes in three decades. Expect them to raise interest rates by AT LEAST another 2 percentage points this year. By raising borrowing costs aggressively, they hope to curb inflation. It promises to be an extremely difficult balancing act.
In an earlier post titled The Inflation Tsunami, I warned “Identify those existing clients whose inflation impacted financial position could adversely affect YOUR firm’s business. Not every client is a client worth having. Working capital, the selection of clients and client relationships must be managed far more carefully.”
Law Firms have been riding high on a post-pandemic wave of unprecedented financial success. But today, America’s ZOMBIE Companies have now racked up $1 trillion in debt; aren’t earning enough to cover their interest expenses let alone make a profit; and are at high risk of insolvency or abrupt implosion as these interest rates rise. Zombie companies are at least 10 years old. Think American Airlines and Carnival Cruises, massive companies propped up by name recognition and a friendly lending environment, that were once America’s case studies in success and the most desired of law firm clients.
According to a Bloomberg analysis of financial data from 3,000 of the country’s largest publicly-traded companies, Zombies now account for nearly 20% of those firms (and perhaps your current clients). Their numbers have been increasing for over a decade, fueled by years of ultra-loose monetary policy. Zombie companies get their nickname because of their tendency to limp along, unable to earn enough to dig out from under their obligations, but still with sufficient access to credit to roll over their debts. Soaring inflation coupled with rising interest rates may be just enough to push a wave of Zombies from undead to dead dead!
From an INDUSTRY perspective, one of Thomson Reuter’s analysts identifying areas ripe for growth during a downturn, claimed that Real Estate was an area where firms should focus.” I DISGAREE. The real estate industry had the highest absolute number of zombies. In commercial real estate, April’s 16% decline in sales marked an abrupt turn from March and had a number of economists saying “the speed of that transition is shocking.” Other investors are walking away from large deals already in contract. And as firms fight to acquire Private Equity Industry expertise, deal making has slowed. Exit activity stalled from the 2021 frenzied pace. PE investors face a much more difficult environment moving forward, exemplified by less liquidity and an increased focus on valuation by buyers.
Now:Focus on certain INDUSTRY clients that are profitable and more inflation proof.
Post # 945
Sharing Firm Leadership: NOT For the Faint of Heart.
Interestingly, there is a pronounced trend toward firms adopting a shared leadership model, with perhaps the most recent example being the elite litigation firm of Quinn Emanuel. See Karen Sloan, “Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel beefs up leadership, elevating DC, NY partners,” Reuters, May 13, 2022 (noting that 900+ lawyer firm “has shaken up its leadership model, installing two prominent litigators as co-managing partners and shifting namesake Los Angeles-based founder John Quinn from sole managing partner to the newly created role of chairman.”).
If your firm has potential office, group (e.g. “our Global Litigation Practice”), or firm leadership candidates who would be great in the role but are reluctant to give up any of their client responsibilities, the notion of having co-leaders may be an attractive alternative. But, the reality of what can occur, is a lot more complicated.
Over the years I have been a first-hand witness to numerous incidents where the leadership duo has imploded. The job of leading a law firm may certainly be demanding enough for two professionals; but the acid-test is getting two people to really share the role.
For example, there are certain leadership responsibilities which naturally confer more power than others. Duties that involve the setting of the strategic direction, investment choices, or selecting key professionals could place one leader in a superior position over another leader. Unless the power structures are equitable in these power roles, a firm may find that one of their co-leaders is a Co-Chair in name only. That can create high levels of resentment if pay levels are equal, which creates even more stress in the working relationship. Disagreements will be inevitable. If power struggles come to the fore, chaos can ensue.
My observations and research show that firm leaders who relinquish their practices to assume management responsibility may be in a tough spot when their leadership role comes to its conclusion. In my work over the years with training (First 100 Days Masterclass) new firm leaders, I have found that only about 23 percent of firms have any formal ‘parachute provision’ or other compensation formulas to help them ease out of the leadership roles and back into full-time practice. Thus, following your retirement from leadership, you may find yourself having to work under a new compensation arrangement, contingent on your performance as a full-time practitioner. Meanwhile, having passed your client load off to other partners in the firm, you now lack the traditional hefty book of business that makes you attractive to your, or any other firm.
In this article I provide 7 prescriptive guidelines that I counsel co-leaders to sit down and have a frank discussion about.
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