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Shape Up! Practice Management Tips for 2010

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BE THE CEO OF YOU: A RECRUITMENT EXPERT'S ADVICE ON TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR CAREER

People at every level of the workforce have been jolted by the economic downturn. Among those hardest hit are those at the opposite ends of the spectrum—people just starting their careers and those with many years of experience behind them. It’s a stark reminder to all of us to continuously take stock of our careers, even if we think we’re at the top of our game.

People at every level of the workforce have been jolted by the economic downturn. Among those hardest hit are those at the opposite ends of the spectrum—people just starting their careers and those with many years of experience behind them. It’s a stark reminder to all of us to continuously take stock of our careers, even if we think we’re at the top of our game.

This is the time to take steps to make sure you are in control of your career—which requires more than simply keeping your resume updated or staying on the lookout for the “right opportunity.” If you want to keep your career on track, it pays to ensure you are in charge of your most treasured asset—you.

The best CEOs understand that you can never be complacent about your role in the marketplace—that’s one of the reasons they are so successful. As a recruitment professional with access to America’s top executive suites, I’ve seen this firsthand. And, drawing on numerous studies about the characteristics common to the best CEOs, I know that lawyers can apply many of these same traits to their careers as well.

So when charting your next career move, consider how these characteristics can help you be a better CEO of you.

Know Yourself
Otherwise capable and intelligent people can fail because of a lack of self-awareness. Great CEOs, in contrast, have absolute clarity about themselves as well as their businesses. Because they know who they are, they have an identifiable persona and can leverage it to gain and maintain credibility with internal and external stakeholders. This enables them to act decisively while adhering to a consistent set of principles and standards.

How do you establish this kind of clarity? By knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your skills, limitations and boundaries. A great first step is to take an inventory of your abilities and characteristics and get meaningful feedback on how others perceive you. A 360-degree evaluation can be a particularly valuable road map. (See the box at the right for some resources.) Listening to your clients and colleagues also will provide you with useful perspectives. This kind of self-assessment should be an iterative process, not a one-shot deal.

People who know themselves are more empathetic to others’ needs and are rarely blindsided or viewed as out of touch. They also exhibit a unique professional presence. It is precisely this “gravitas” that clients want when they ask us to conduct a general counsel search. And guess who the primary client contact is for those searches? You’ve got it, the CEO. They know that they have it and want to see it in the counsel they hire, too. Self-awareness is an essential precursor to leading others and marketing yourself successfully.

Know Your Value
This is not about knowing your hourly billing rate, or digging in your heels about the paycheck you think you deserve. Instead, it’s an extension of your self-awareness. It is about knowing your true value as a professional, which in turn means you should know your market and your market should know you.

One of the savviest GCs I know understands completely how she adds value to her company. She recognizes her skills, has identified the professional environments that bring out the best in her and the environments that would stifle her, and knows how to foster success in others. She also knows when her contributions are most important. Understand where you add value, and recognize when to say no, or when to stay out of others’ way so they can do what they do best.

Define Your Vision
Adept CEOs see opportunities, know the vulnerabilities and threats facing their companies, and are able to marshal the talent of those around them to move everyone in the right direction. Likewise, your “vision” should reflect where you want to go and what you want to achieve.

Defining your long-term purpose will help you navigate through setbacks and keep you on course. Writing it down on paper will help you visualize the path—it needs to be much more than a trite, objective statement, though. Your vision of your career is personal to you. Go beyond describing what you want to be when you grow up—describe your motivations and the principles you will apply to all your decisions.

Identifying a role model or two will help. Fred Gray is an excellent example. Born and raised in the segregated South ( Montgomery, Alabama), he vowed in college “to become a lawyer, return to Alabama, and destroy everything segregated” he could find. Shortly after passing the bar, he answered the call of one Rosa Parks, who needed a lawyer to represent her after being arrested for refusing to yield her bus seat to a white man. That action led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which sparked the civil rights movement. Ever since, Fred Gray has battled racial discrimination of every kind and worked toward improving the nation’s justice system. He identified his vision early in life, and his commitment to it is indisputable more than 45 years later.

Understand Your Audience
Good CEOs know their customers’ pressure points and needs, so they can ensure that their company stays ahead of those needs by providing the right product or service at the right time for the right price. Great CEOs can sell you their company’s product or service not just because they know it well, but because they understand how to sell it.

Applying this to a professional career can be tricky, particularly in a highly specialized profession like the law. You have to articulate what you do and your value proposition in a way that an intelligent layperson can understand. Think about how you would describe your law practice if you were explaining it to your Aunt Betty (not your mother, since she is genetically predisposed to think you are fabulous even if she has no idea what you are talking about). As a lawyer, your product is your service, and it is most often used by people who are not lawyers. If you talk about it in ways that only other lawyers can understand, you will severely limit your ability to expand your market share.

You can borrow a lesson here from the technology sector. Sophisticated tech company executives can describe their technology in ways that not only make people understand it but also want to adopt it immediately. Bill Gates didn’t become a titan of the technology industry by limiting himself to selling software to computer engineers, after all. Marketing what you do is about helping others realize how you add value and the special kinds of solutions you can bring to their lives. Sometimes it is about saving significant sums of money by settling a lawsuit, negotiating a distribution agreement in a new market, or protecting an entrepreneur’s intellectual property from being infringed on by a competitor. It’s usually not the stuff of front-page headlines, but it can have a big impact on a business. You need to be able to articulate this when describing what you do. And always remember, a great lawyer provides worth that is not measured by revenue or the logging of hours alone.

Plan Your Strategy
The best CEOs are laser-like in their focus on their business. When articulating their vision for the company’s future and what they are doing to get there, they can zero in on the details and convey the strategy with excitement and passion. You should treat your career the same way.

In other words, you need to know what excites you about your work, your vision for your future, and have a strategic plan for getting where you want to go. If you don’t plot out specific steps to follow, you could end up on an aimless journey leading nowhere.

Have you ever noticed that the people who stumble from one job to the next, or who are always looking for greener pastures, really don’t know what they are looking for or why? Usually the reason is that they lack a strategy. You can always change the destination you are sailing to, but if you haven’t navigated a clear course for yourself, you are likely to sail in circles.

Take Responsibility and Treat Others with Respect
Show me a CEO who does not accept complete accountability for his or her company and I will show you someone being ushered out the door by the company’s board. CEOs are on the hook for a lot of things they may not have personally done, but that’s part of the job. In your career, you need to take responsibility for the things that happen under your watch even when, or particularly when, they don’t turn out as well as planned. Use them as tools to learn what you should do differently in the future and then make the necessary course corrections.

Taking responsibility is integral to holding yourself to the highest professional standards. Going hand in hand with that, your standards are especially reflected in how you treat other people—whether they are your direct reports, administrative staff, supervisors, professional colleagues, clients or vendors. By acting ethically and treating others with respect throughout your career, even in the midst of disagreements or work crises, you will earn people’s admiration, make others want to work with you and inspire still others to follow your lead.

Demonstrate Passion
Although it might sound trite to some, most successful professionals love what they do—and it’s a key factor in their success. Think about the charisma that great CEOs possess. Part of it comes from the passion they have for their business, which is why they can convince people of the value of their product or service and instill excitement and conviction in others.

Consider this as the foundation on which to build a more successful you, and as a platform from which you can propel your career. You already have most of these traits at your disposal. You just need to take the time to understand and nurture them. Doing so will help focus your efforts and make your next steps clear, putting you well on your way to realizing your true potential.

Alisa Tazioli is a Managing Director in the Seattle office of Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. She formerly worked as the in-house recruiter for Microsoft’s Law & Corporate Affairs Department and as Attorney Recruiting & Training Manager at Bogle & Gates. She can also be found at http://talentlounge.blogspot.com.

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