October 23, 2012

Strong Leader, Strong Firm

Law Practice Magazine

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Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

December 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 8| Page 64

First Person

Strong Leader, Strong Firm

It's not difficult to find people in firm management who aren't particularly interested in being inspiring leaders. But be assured, successful law firms advance and prosper not because they have the best lawyers, as some practitioners believe, but because the firms have strong leaders.

Leadership is a collective act between leaders and followers, involving the motives and resources of both to achieve common goals. True leaders rise above their firm's politics and situations, shaping them rather than surrendering to them. Mere managers, on the other hand, give in and become driven by short-term results.

Leaders concern themselves with vision, risk taking and, yes, daring. In a law firm, leadership means the ability to inspire confidence; the ability to convey and inspire adherence to the firm's values; and the ability to get things done by converting one's own decisions into consensus decisions.

Strong leaders have a vision of a preferred future-where they are going and what it will be like when they get there-and they communicate it through a set of common values shared by the rest of the firm.

Boss versus Leader. The contrast between boss and leader highlights the difference between management and leadership:

  • Bosses drive their people. Leaders coach them.
  • Bosses arouse fear. Leaders inspire enthusiasm.
  • Bosses say, "Go." Leaders say, "Let's go!"
  • Bosses hire people. Leaders develop them.
  • Bosses set up rules to follow. Leaders share values.
  • Bosses set budgets. Leaders define a vision.

Followers' Needs. If you want to lead your firm instead of merely manage it, you must understand and meet the needs of your followers. Extensive and diverse research shows a consistently uniform description of the characteristics that people admire and look for in a leader. In virtually every organizational setting, followers want their leaders to be honest, competent, forward-looking and inspiring.

Followers want leaders they can trust. You earn people's trust by simply being truthful, ethical and principled. Strong leaders work hard at creating a climate of trust. Since followers judge you by your deeds and not your words, you have to do what you say you are going to do.

If you want people to follow you, you also need to show that you are capable and effective. Followers, both external and internal, aren't necessarily looking for technical competence. They're looking for leadership competence. If you can challenge, inspire, empower and encourage, your followers will consider you competent.

Your followers-partners, associates, staff and clients-expect you to have a sense of direction and a concern for the future of your firm. Good leaders know the direction in which they want to take their firms. They know the importance of having a strategic plan. Your followers want you to have long-term vision.

Essential Actions. Your followers also want enthusiasm and excitement for the goals of your firm. Everyone seeks a sense of purpose and meaning in their day-to-day workinglives. And it is a leader's job to bring that meaning to the table. How? A good leader does the following:

  • Sets a good example.
  • Gets results through people.
  • Treats everyone as an individual and lets them know that they are important.
  • Suggests or requests rather than commands.
  • Asks questions before reprimanding and criticizes in private.
  • Welcomes suggestions for improvement.
  • Explains why something must happen and lets people know in advance about changes that affect them.
  • Lets people know where they stand and suggests ways to improve.
  • Praises good performance rather than criticizing the bad and gives credit where credit is due.
  • Keeps all promises.

Now, how do you measure up?

About the Author

Milton W. Zwicker is a principal in and former Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ON. He has written widely on practice management issues for many years.