Research by Daniel Goleman, the thought leader on Emotional Intelligence (EI), demonstrates that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way—they all have a high degree of EI. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant, particularly in the legal realm. They matter, but they are entry-level requirements for executive positions.
If someone is in the C-Suite at an organization, EI is a must. A person can have the best technical ability in the world and be strategic with process, but without EI, he or she still won’t make a great leader. For the owners and partners of a law firm, especially a solo practice or small law firm, it is even more essential. Whereas the head honchos at Big Law have hordes of people between them and the newbies, a solo/small firm leader is on the front lines with their staff. Being able to understand your employees’ motivations and motivators is key.
The four areas of proficiency within the EI domain are:
- Self-Awareness—The ability to recognize and understand personal moods and emotions and drives, as well as their impact on others. The biggest indicators of self-awareness include self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Self-awareness depends on one's ability to monitor one's own emotional state and to correctly identify and name one’s emotions. Think of the recent Pixar movie Inside Out—is Anger running the switch board today? That can have a huge impact on how your day (and your employee’s/client’s day) goes.
- Self-Management—The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and the ability to think before acting. People with strong self-management are trustworthy and have high integrity. They are comfortable with ambiguity and open to change. Whether you’re just starting a business or have been running the show for years, impulse control and thoughtful action are likely to serve you well.
- Social Awareness—The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. This trait is a godsend in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, and service to clients and customers. A law firm won’t last long if its leadership can’t read a room or maintain good relationships with its clients.
- Relationship Management—Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks, and an ability to find common ground and build rapport. Hallmarks include effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness, and expertise building and leading teams. One of the best referral sources is a colleague at another firm with whom you’ve built a lasting relationship. Cultivate those resources just like you would a client—by delivering on promises, showing your value (by returning the referral favor!), and by maintaining contact.
The legal industry naturally places a lot of emphasis on IQ. But it is important to remember that, no matter how technologically advanced our practice becomes, at the end of the day, it’s a business built on people. Work on improving your EI and watch your business grow.
Josh White is the executive director at Goosmann Law Firm in its Omaha, Nebraska, office and a Gallup StrengthsFinder coach.