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Law Practice Magazine

The Leadership Issue

Leading Indicators of Future Leaders

Lance G Johnson


  • This is the leadership issue. This topic is broad and covers leadership within a business (even if you’re a solo practitioner), a community and among other professionals.
Leading Indicators of Future Leaders
Alan Schein via Getty Images

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This is the leadership issue. This topic is broad and covers leadership within a business (even if you’re a solo practitioner), a community and among other professionals.

Sure, leaders lead. No news here. But why do followers follow? That is a really interesting question especially among strong-willed professionals who all have their own ideas of what constitutes a “best” plan (if they have a plan) and who often seem more like herding a clowder of cats. (Yes, I looked it up.)

I expect that each follower has their own reasons. Some may be dependent on the context and tasks at hand. For example, a firm of two might have one partner leading on finance while another leads on tech, as their interests and skills suggest. Each partner would follow the lead of the other out of respect that the other was more skilled or interested in the subject matter. But this logic only goes so far in a firm of more than two.

Your average midsize firm might have 25 to 40 professionals split into partners/shareholders and associates with several different types of practice. Each type of practice is likely led by a partner having the clients for the work done by the group, or at least led by the designated partner for the originator. (This follows the adage that there are only two types of lawyers: lawyers with clients and lawyers who work for lawyers who have clients.)

Associates typically follow because they expect to learn something, e.g., the skills necessary to write a persuasive brief, craft an ironclad agreement or break down a complex fact pattern into manageable bites. For many, I expect that they also want to learn how to attract their own clients so they can start to build their book and brand. Those associates, I submit, represent a valuable pool of future leaders that stick out from the background noise.

Other traits are distinctive markers in my view that point to leadership potential: 1) Do you have an “early adopter” of new technologies? Can that curiosity be nurtured to develop new clients, a new practice group or an improved internal procedure? 2) Do you have an associate with natural charisma and a sound set of basic skills? Those folks need to start mingling in the places where potential clients are found and check their contact lists for contacts that will grow into positions where they can send work. 3) Do you have a partner with either of the foregoing but who has, thus far, created mist rather than rain? Maybe a coach would help? If you have more than one, group and individual coaching might be a worthwhile investment.

In this issue, we cover the map with how-to articles on leadership from a variety of perspectives.

In her article, “Mind the Gap: Leadership Across Generations,” Jessie Spressart enlightens us regarding the advantages of a generationally diverse workforce and how to use the diverse perspectives and experiences of differing generations to the advantage of the firm. Notably, the Millennials are now entering leadership roles, with Generation Z just coming in the door. Both groups have differing views of the world and how/where they want to fit into it. Attorneys in these groups may understand “recognition” and “development” to be altogether something other than what the Boomers think. Fascinating article.

In our new EIC’s roundtable article, “Rewarding Leaders,” Courtney Ward-Reichard explores practical realities of leadership within a firm subject to billable hours, naysayers, critics and ongoing competition for compensation.

Jennifer Bluestein’s article, “Lawyer Leaders of Today and Tomorrow: How Do We Build Them?,” looks at the key traits of leaders—some might call them the “highly valued soft skills”— and the research that supports why those are such key traits. More importantly, she also looks at some characteristics that are valued in a firm, e.g., rainmaking, but which are not necessarily indicative of a skill that makes for a good leader.

Mark Beese and Ian Paterson bring us a leadership coaching article titled “Why Visionary Leadership Is Critical in Times of Uncertainty,” based on assessments of law firm leaders. I really like their discussion of why a vision is crucial for management through change, their bullet point list of the six behaviors of visionary leaders and the eight tips for becoming a more visionary leader.

Ruby L. Powers gives us a couple of dozen tips for holiday goodies and conveniences in “Better Than a Gift Card: Holiday Gifts for Lawyers.” This article includes both goods and services that can be given as gifts for all sorts of busy, stressed-out lawyers. Read it before you finish your list.

Lastly, Andrew Elowitt’s article, “Effective Decision-Making,” seems like it came directly out of my last partnership meeting. As I was often informed: “A decision not to decide is actually a kind of decision.” (I really hated this rationale for inaction and avoidance.) Fortunately, Andrew offers some real, practical tips on how to get out of an infinite “no-do” loop. (This is a slant on an old computer reference back to my FORTRAN IV days. Bonus points to both of you who get it, but there is no prize.)