November/December 2018


The LP Chair's Perspective: Surrendering to Leadership

Katy Goshtasbi

I have found over the years that “leadership” seems like a bad word to many of us lawyers. I often have clients tell me that they are trained as lawyers, not managers, and don’t want to be “in charge” of other lawyers at their firm. Or I hear them say that they don’t want responsibility for others—it’s hard enough getting their own work done. I also hear lawyers say they don’t want to deal with the mushy human stuff that comes with managing others.

Why is leadership such a struggle?

It’s totally understandable that we’d rather focus on our work as lawyers. It also makes sense to not take on a task we are not suited for—that’s being responsible.

Here’s the deal, though. Every moment of every day is a leadership opportunity and a leadership lesson.

In my world leadership is not management. Management is easier. You get a checklist of things your direct reports are to be doing. You check off the boxes as those you manage do their tasks. That’s it.

Leadership, to me, is none of that. Rather, it’s putting our egos aside and staying aware of how those we lead are doing, feeling and being. I work with a lawyer who is in leadership. He makes all decisions by himself and doesn’t bother telling his leadership team about what he’s doing or why. There’s a lot of ego involved and, I suspect, a lot of trying to be efficient and not wasting time by checking in with others on his decisions. He’s a great guy, but that’s not the point. Because of his actions, his leadership team does not respect him and also questions his decisions because they seem very ego-based and quick, lacking thought and collaboration. If only he would stop and look around to see how he is coming across to others and ask his leadership team for input and feedback.

Leadership also is having compassion—compassion to put ourselves in others’ shoes, and compassion for ourselves too.

Leadership does not mean forgetting about yourself—to the contrary. If you aren’t healthy and happy, you can’t inspire others. Others follow our example and look to see what we are doing for ourselves. Being a martyr is not inspirational.

Leadership is also about boundaries. Boundaries are about being able to have the courage to say no when you have to. But that no has to come from a place of caring and compassion, not a place of ego and drama. This is the area many lawyers struggle with the most. As humans, we want to be loved and respected. That’s fair. So we find that we often can’t say no. What often happens is this: As a leader, we say yes when we really want to say no. We then start gossiping about our frustrations at those to whom we should have said no. The end result is a mess of miscommunication and a leader who looks weak and incompetent. If we made it through law school, I know we all have it in us to be strong and courageous and be able to have those tough conversations with others and with ourselves.

Leadership happens everywhere, with everyone. At home we are leaders to our partners, families and kids. In organizations, such as the ABA Law Practice Division, we can be effective leaders even if we don’t have that title bestowed upon us. Even in the grocery line, we have an opportunity to lead by inspiring someone, making them smile and giving support.

So what does this mean for you? Stop and consider:

•  What if you just surrendered to leadership? What would that look like?

•  When was the last time you were truly inspired by someone? What did that look like, and how can you bring more of that into your life, personally and professionally?

Katy Goshtasbi

Founder, Puris Consulting

 Katy Goshtasbi is a change and branding expert. She works with law firms, lawyers and organizations on growing, in size and profits, by mastering change and developing brands that get their message out effectively. The results include happier, more productive lawyers, reduced stress, attracting better clients and more revenues. Katy practiced securities law for almost 14 years. E-mail her.