Do you have a confidant in whom you can discuss your burning issues - your own personal leadership sounding board?
With the pace of business today the pressure has never been higher, or the temptation greater to act just for the sake of moving things off your pending pile and appearing decisive. This kind of 'shoot from the hip' style may make us feel confident that we are getting somewhere. However, you are usually dealing with complex, multi-faceted issues that require more consideration. This is where I often find leaders can gain significant value from working with an external 'sounding board,' someone they respect, who they can confide in and who can challenge their thinking process.
Booking time with someone outside of your firm, with no axe to grind, and that you can talk freely to, about your agenda, in complete confidence, has a number of benefits:
1. It makes space for you to think things through.
It is always helpful to pause to consider whether you are planning not only to do things right, but more importantly, to do the right things! It is all too easy to get sucked into operational details and it is your job to ensure that the issues that are strategic have been properly identified and planned for. If you are not strategic in the use of your time, chances are you are not being sufficiently strategic in other areas!
2. The very act of explaining your ideas and issues to someone objective can help you clarify your own thinking.
There is a natural 'sorting' process that goes on whenever you gather together all of bits that are similar and create a clearer, more complete picture. This process helps sequence your thinking in a way that makes your overall story much more coherent and easily conveyed.
3. It gives you the chance to develop your ideas further, and if necessary, change direction completely with no loss of face, and no adverse consequences.
It is very normal for a good leader to have doubts, and it is a part of the job to explore them as honestly as possible. This is a naturally uncomfortable process and it helps to have someone support you through it.
4. It allows you to have your thinking challenged in a non-threatening environment.
In days of old, Kings had Court Jesters who had license to say exactly what they thought, as truthfulness tends to shrivel as it gets closer to power. An outsider can ask those apparently daft, but highly challenging questions such as "Why would you want to do that?" "What would happen if you didn't do that?" etc.
5. An outsider can often see when the leader is part of the problem and highlight when you might need to consider your own contribution to the situation.
An activity that can be valuably performed in this safe space is venting. Once words are spoken they cannot be unspoken and in every team there are frustrations, doubts and fears. These can all get in the way of the smooth running of your firm. Deciding which issues are ones you need to take up with someone directly and which ones are just the result of, perhaps you having a bad day, can make you a much better person to work with.
6. It allows you to seek input from someone outside your firms political structure and therefore not need to play power games.
This process is not about someone coming in and telling you how to run your firm, something that you are uniquely qualified to do; but rather it is to help you "get at the wisdom you already have." When this is supplemented with a little outside input it becomes a very potent dish.
7. You are able to bring in new ideas from outside your firm.
One managing partner I worked with said to me that he could only discuss a particular issue with two other people in his firm, and he already knew what they would both say, so he definitely needed a fresh perspective. This is by no means untypical.
Time spent in reflection and exploration with a trusted confidant is a good way of reducing your stress. Decisions that have been thought through inspire more confidence, and this raises your 'stock' with your people and their willingness to follow your lead. In the end if you are like the firm leaders and practice leaders I work with, you will typically leave these discussions much more focused about what is really important to you; clear about what you need to do next; and understand where you can either afford to take action or need to delegate.
For three decades, Patrick has worked with the top management of leading law firms to discuss, challenge, and escalate their thinking on how to effectively manage and compete. Call him today for a non-obligation discussion on how he could serve as your sounding board.
According to Of Counsel . . . "McKenna knows a thing or two about the concerns of managing partners. He has written a book about law firm leadership transition. In addition for the last few years, he has conducted seminars to prepare incoming leaders about what they should expect of their new roles and how they might best meet those demands."