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November 01, 2022

Taking the Lead: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom as a Pathway to Success

Linda A. Klein and John Hinton IV
Sometimes it only takes one person to show many others the way to success.

Sometimes it only takes one person to show many others the way to success.

MarcoVenturiniAutieri / Getty Images

Sometimes what seems impossible is achievable after all. On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. Prior to his run, the conventional wisdom was that the feat was unachievable. Indeed, the four-minute mark was often referred to as the four-minute barrier. The barrier proved to be as much a mental barrier as it was a physical barrier. Bannister’s feat demonstrated that a sub-four- minute mile was possible. Others soon followed in his footsteps. A second runner bested Bannister’s time less than two months later; a year later three runners bested four minutes in a single race; and now more than 1,600 people have done so. The sub-four-minute mile wasn’t impossible, but someone needed to break through the barrier mindset.

Rethinking Rainmaking

Roger Bannister’s story of leading others to break through a mental barrier imposed by the conventional wisdom of the day parallels a development in our firm that’s worth sharing. How many times have we heard that lawyers fall into three categories: finders, minders and grinders? We are also told that no one is all three, so only certain lawyers can become successful finders or business developers. Is that belief true or merely a barrier to success? A firm named GrowthPlay is demonstrating to our colleagues and us that this conventional wisdom is indeed untrue and that (unlike running a sub-four-minute mile) all lawyers can be successful at business development, albeit in different ways.

According to Alycia Sutor and Debra Baker, managing directors of GrowthPlay, we should reject the classic division of lawyers into finders, minders or grinders. They point out that this mindset encourages some lawyers to avoid business development altogether, being typecast as a grinder, and encourages other lawyers—the finders—to jump on every business development opportunity, which leaves them tired and frustrated.

Instead, GrowthPlay’s research has led them to conclude that everyone has the competency to develop clients through at least one of six distinct selling styles. Each style has the same goal—to guard, grow or get existing business—but how each lawyer does this is distinct. For example, activators are known for their ability to trigger interest, and advocates are known for building deep-trusted relationships. Sutor and Baker point out that although it would be easy to classify an activator as a true finder and an advocate as a merely a minder, the reality is that activators can put their style to work to guard and grow new clients, and advocates can be just as adept at using their trusted advisor status to meet new clients. The difference is the way they do it. It’s the same for the other four styles.

Sutor and Baker have found that when lawyers learn their natural sales aptitudes, they increase their self-awareness about what sales competencies look like, and they can lean into their natural strengths to get better results. They say that using analytics to show lawyers where they have business development potential helps create interest and engagement around building a stronger business development culture. These lawyers also better invest their limited time in the types of activities and behaviors that are more likely to generate results.

Team Benefits

There is a team aspect to this approach. It empowers law firms to be more intentional about defining and developing distinct business development roles, just as lawyers are distinguished by the type of law they practice. For example, teams can divide and conquer by focusing their educators on thought leadership activities and their inventors on the development of new service lines.

This does not mean the end of the celebrated finders. Instead, Sutor and Baker argue, even the best rainmakers are not doing all things for all potential clients. These successful finders have intuitively figured out what works for them and are extremely focused on putting their strengths to work to their advantage and for the entire team. This change in mindset is paying dividends at our firm as more lawyers recognize and embrace their abilities and talents.

Beyond Rainmaking

We greatly appreciate how Sutor and Baker are encouraging lawyers to see that each of them can succeed in business development. You may want to consider whether this is an area of your firm where challenging the conventional wisdom could propel your colleagues to success. There are also many more opportunities for firm leaders to lead their teams to success in areas where their teams could not envision it was achievable. Consider what mental barriers may be holding back our colleagues. Sometimes it only takes one person to show many others the way to success.

Linda A. Klein

Senior Managing Shareholder, Baker Donelson

Linda A. Klein is a past president of the ABA and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. She is a frequent speaker on law practice, construction and higher education law. [email protected]

John Hinton IV

Shareholder, Baker Donelson

John Hinton IV is a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and construction law. [email protected]

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