“This part of my job can be all-consuming if I let it,” said the managing partner of a leading boutique just yesterday. He went on to say, “There is no end to what I could be doing in the leadership role. It consumes my time in the office and, if I let it, much of my time at home.”
The time pressures on leaders of professional service firms are unique. For many, the notion of the producer/manager challenge, as noted by Thomas J. DeLong of Harvard Business School, is ever-present. In only the largest law firms is the managing partner role a full-time occupation. For the vast majority, billable client work is ever-present, the door is almost always open, and the notion that these leaders can manage their time is all but a dream.
For just a moment, consider putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. Make your time a priority. Exercise because it will keep you both physically and mentally energized—and because that time will help you assimilate the dynamics of information both inside and outside of your firm. Family time will keep you balanced and whole. With balance and energy, you can then put the oxygen mask on those who, from time to time, may act like children.
In all but the largest firms, guarding time for the clients you serve—and your practice—is critical to your future. You serve at the privilege of your partners. Making time for the practice of law will keep your confidence level high.
“Leaders need to think of themselves as a quarterback in the NFL,” said Paul H. Burton, a legal industry expert in time management and creator of the QuietSpacing productivity method. Like quarterbacks on the field, according to Burton, “leaders must assimilate and respond to a dynamic environment. Leaders must be able to visualize the path for the firm while being sufficiently flexible to respond to change, remaining mindful of, but not entirely focused on, the firm’s objectives.” Finally, he suggests that leaders should “be prepared to call a time-out—gather the group together, when necessary—to get everyone on the same page.”
Consensus is how most law firms describe their decision-making process. How can leaders leverage their time and relationships to move the firm forward? Law firm leaders can only get things done with consensus and buy-in from their partners. Leaders need to invest in every relationship to build a cohesive partnership. While it is easier to communicate through email, nothing replaces the personal, one-to-one, relationship. According to Burton, “leadership means setting the example of dignity and respect, but it also means getting out in front and demanding it. Cautious optimism sets the example of a realistic glass-half-full approach in the modern professional world.”
FINDING PRECIOUS TIME
How can law firm leaders create space? The answer is any way that works for you. Schedule blocks of time and guard that time religiously. Early mornings work for some, getting into the office before anyone else. Others tell me they get a grip on their email at the end of the day. Dealing with each email as it comes in is akin to retrieving individual pieces of physical mail from the mailbox, Burton says. But we don’t do that. Instead, we process the entire pile when we pick it up from the mailbox, so do the same with your email: Deal with it in batches.
As Tom Peters said at the turn of the century: “Leaders are harbingers of hope.” Leadership is about creating a compelling vision, communicating it and getting folks to buy in and get engaged. You cannot create the vision, communicate it in a compelling way and engage smart, critical minds who are trained to find the flaw in your argument, without resilience. It’s not possible.
According to Linda K. Robertson, former general counsel, now consultant and lawyer coach, success may not be about managing time at all, but about managing your energy and creating the cushion we call resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from adversity and bounce back. Strategies for managing your time and your energy are critical.
Develop strategies that work for you. Find minutes, and the hours will look after themselves. Protect your own time and give the rest generously to your family, your firm and your clients.