October 23, 2012

A Managing Partner’s Guide to the Best Leadership Books

Law Practice Magazine

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Partner to Leader

Rising to the Top

Tips for a Smooth Transition

 Table of Contents

September 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 6 | Page 48

Transistions: Partner to Leader

A Managing Partner’s Guide to the Best Leadership Books

You can’t be a great leader of your law firm unless you understand the principles of leadership.

TOM GRELLA, managing partner of McGuire, Wood & Bissette in Asheville, North Carolina, says he thought he knew what law firm leadership was all about back in 2001, when he was asked to chair his firm’s management committee. Not quite.

It didn’t take Grella long at all to realize that management and leadership are not the same. And, he found, if you want your firm to compete on the new playing fields of the 21st century, leadership is more important than spending time dealing with management of day-to-day administrative issues that arise.

Soon after stepping into the managing partner role, he began to study principles that might help in leading others. “I came to realize that there were basically three types of resources in the leadership arena that would be crucial to my own personal development as a leader,” says Grella, who has also just completed a year leading the ABA Law Practice Management Section as its chair.

Law Practice asked Grella to recommend resources in each of the three categories. In response, he advises that “you cannot be a great leader of your law firm until you understand the basic principles of leadership.” For this he recommends a visit to www.maximum impact.com and a subscription to the Maximum Impact Club (with mentoring CD-ROMs sent monthly). From there, the following are some of the books he recommends to lawyers, along with his personal views on why they are essential reading. Each resource has a different focus, but together they lay a comprehensive foundation in personal and organizational leadership and effectiveness.

Leadership Principles

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998

This is not only the first leadership book I read, but it is also a resource to which I constantly return. It does not contain “principles,” but laws. Like any other laws, if you understand and adhere, you will stay out of trouble and perhaps realize success. If you break them, the opposite occurs.

The Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Jossey-Bass, 2003

David Maister, renowned management consultant to professional services firms, has stated that if you read only one book on leadership, this is the one to read. I agree. The authors’ premise is that leaders “model the way,” “inspire a shared vision,” “challenge the process,” “inspire others to act” and “encourage the heart.” This volume contains practical examples of folks who have put these five principles into place, including examples from service organizations. These basic personal characteristics of a leader are what I aspire to in the organizations I now lead, and have previously led.

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
HarperTrade, 1967; Collins Revised Edition, 2006

The late Peter Drucker, known as the management guru, spoke and wrote about leadership, using words and phrases most familiar to those recognized as managers. One of my personal favorites, this book goes beyond leadership and is about being effective in one’s work by focusing on getting “the right things done.”

The Servant Leader

Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert K. Greenleaf
Berrett-Koehler, 1977; Subsequent Edition, 1998

After the Bible, Greenleaf’s 1977 book is recognized as the greatest publication on servant leadership ever written. Throughout it Greenleaf explains the principles behind his overriding thesis that “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.” Although this book does not have as many practical applications of servant leadership as other resources, I definitely recommend it as the place to begin one’s education on the subject.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
HarperCollins, 2001

Some might say this book should be listed in the Principles section, or perhaps be in a class unto itself. But certainly it should be on everyone’s short list of “must-reads” on leadership. The chapter on “Level 5 Leadership” in and of itself is one of the best treatises on servant leadership that exists. Servant leadership is truly a concept that belongs in every organization, and Collins’s explanation and application of Level 5 is very instructive.

Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard and The Founding Associates and Consulting Partners of The Ken Blanchard Companies
FT Press, 2006

This November 2006 publication incorporates principles of servant leadership into organizational strategy and planning processes. The focus is not only on understanding theory, but also on application, recognizing that every organization needs to focus on the triple bottom line: being the provider of choice, the employer of choice and the investment of choice. The key to becoming each depends on our service as leaders to customers or clients, those who work for (or with) us, and those who we are in business (or practice) with.

Law Firm Leadership

Apart from publications of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, and consultant Web sites generally geared toward larger firms, there are few resources on point. However, the two below are worth their weight in gold.

True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients and Your Career by David H. Maister
Free Press, 1997

This is such a great volume on law firm leadership that I purchased a copy for everyone on our firm’s management team, and we have begun informal lunch meetings to discuss application of the principles to our firm. What Maister means by the phrase “true professionalism” is this: the pursuit of excellence.

First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals by Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister
Free Press, 2005

Although this book focuses on leadership of practice groups, it is not solely a publication geared to the larger law firm. It is about leading any group of professionals and is, therefore, even for the solo lawyer who might simply manage a few professional staff. Its message is that the key to peak performance by others is not your ability to manage them, but instead your ability to lead and inspire them.

About the Author

Thomas C. Grella is Managing Partner of McGuire, Wood & Bissette and coauthor of The Lawyer’s Guide to Strategic Planning: Defining, Setting and Achieving Your Firm’s Goals (ABA, 2004).