Leadership and the Nation’s Capitol

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to experience, and learn about, leadership this past week.  On behalf of the ABA Law Practice Division, and as a member of a North Carolina delegation of bar leaders, I participated in ABA Day in Washington, DC.  As representative of the ABA and State Bar associations, participants visit with members of Congress to discuss with them pressing needs and concerns.  This year there were two major concerns: 1) funding for legal services (a brief synopsis of the ABA position can be found at:_ http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/aba-day/resources/lsc.html ) and 2) a provision of recently proposed tax reform legislation that would, if passed, force upon small professional associations, such as law firms, accrual based accounting (a brief synopsis of the ABA position can be found at: http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/aba-day/resources/vawa1.html ).  The North Carolina Bar delegation was fortunate enough to visit with both NC State Senators, as well as all but two of our members of Congress, and/or their staff.

One of our last visits was with Congressman George Holding of the 13th Congressional District of North Carolina.  Mr. Holding is a first term member of Congress, and before that served as a US Attorney.  After discussing with him the major initiatives of bar associations, we were able to ask Mr. Holding some of his views as a first term member of Congress; specifically his views about the contentious environment that seems to pervade all levels of our government. From that discussion, I learned (or confirmed) two leadership lessons:

First, now that the two party system seems to be a more competitive political environment, and because of the unbelievably fast rate of flow of information today, there is very little time for “leaders” to build the types of relationships necessary to truly lead each other, or the country.  Mr. Holding described for us the way members of Congress no longer have any time for each other.  Most time is spent away from Washington raising money or politicking.  When Congress is in session, Members leave (assuming they are not in session Friday) on Thursday evening, and return either very late Sunday, or on the first flight Monday morning.  I can attest to that fact, as I recall being on the last flight out from DC on a Sunday and crossing paths with my own Congressman in the airport. Even when at work in their offices in Washington, it sure seems like every minute is spent meeting with some constituent or other party asking for some type of influence or support. John Maxwell’s sixth law of leadership (Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1988)) is “The Law of Solid Ground: Trust is the Foundation of Leadership”.  It seems impossible to build the kind of trust needed to lead others if you are not spending any real time with them.  Apparently, in the past, members from both sides of the aisle had time to get to know each other and form the kinds of trust that help build the types of coalitions that transcend party lines.  It seems this has been lost.

For leaders of lawyers in law firms and clients, the lesson to learn is that we truly do have to spend time getting to know those whom we lead.  Leadership of others takes time, and the kind of trust that leads to success will only be earned over a long period of devoted time.

Second, listening to Mr. Holding as well as other members of Congress, it seems that the power of position has increasingly become a real hindrance to leadership in Washington, DC.  In 20th Century years gone by, it seemed as if there was a less competitive environment, because there was less likelihood that the Congressional makeup and control could change from election to election.  One party held Congress for many years, and status quo was maintained because congressional districts did not really change from D to R or R to D, very often.  This is simply no longer the case.  With position, or the possibility of position, comes the potential (or thirst) for power, and therefore the possibility of having the power of “forced” influence (or as some leadership guru’s call it, Level 1 Leadership).  True leadership, or what is known as “Servant Leadership”, is not about the power of position, or forced influence, but positive influence through service to, or for, others as the main incentive to lead.  We seem to have lost this in the present environment in Washington, DC.  Let’s hope that the environment will change in the future such that even with change in position, the focus (or passion) of our “leaders” will be on service, and not power.

The lesson for leaders of law firms and clients is to understand that your motives need to be pure.  If you are simply “leading” to have power or influence over others, then you may get your way, but you will not be leading.  Our passion as leaders in the profession needs to always be primarily focused on the service of others: partners, associates, staff, clients, other members of our profession and the communities in which we live and work.Bk3xMzyIMAA6vIS

Rep. Holding and Reed Head of Winston-Salem, NC

Bk-Nfe0IQAEfV8z[1]

NC Delegation and Congresswoman Renee Elmers of NC Con. District 2

Hagan and NC photo

NC Delegation and NC Senatator Kay Hagan

As a Leader of Clients and Lawyers – Do you Know How and When to Say No and Yes?

just_say_no[1]It might be one of the first words that most of learn to say as a child.  But for some reason it becomes so difficult to say…….. a simple NO.

As Lawyers, we like to tell people Yes.  We like to say yes to helping others in dealing with their legal issues, we like to say yes to providing aid to our local community, especially when non-lawyers need our special legal expertise to do good works.  We like to not make waves at the office, and say yes to our colleagues.

Saying “Yes” at the wrong time, and to the wrong opportunities may cause problems to your legal practice, leadership effectiveness and personal and business relationships.  It might also make it impossible, or very difficult to say yes to the right opportunities that come along.  Saying “No” is a skill.  Developing that skill is a key to the future of every leader/lawyer.

To learn more, see my recent article in Law Practice Magazine: The Power of “No”,  Volume 40, Number 2 (March /April 2014) at the following link:  http://bit.do/jGNM

Is Leadership just a Fad? Do the Principles really apply in Law Firms?

I was a cross country runner when I was in high school in the mid 1970’s.  Our team was good, but I certainly was not the best runner on the team.  Generally, I was always somewhere in the middle, never quite making it into scoring position.  Our team was known as being one of the best in Virginia at the time.  One of our coaches was a marathon runner himself.  He insisted that everyone on the team run twice a day, and our mileage was fairly high for teenagers.  Many of the athletes in my school in the traditional “big three” sports (football, basketball and baseball) looked on the distance runners as a bit crazy, and our extreme training as a bit compulsive. 

Since that time, running seems to have become quite a popular activity among the masses. I have kept my running up over the years, and have observed that at times it is an activity that is almost a “fad”.  Where the activity was once seen as a “non- mainstream” sport, it now seems to have become one of the most popular sports in the country; one where anyone and everyone can take part.

The recent “Leadership” craze might be considered by some to be akin to what happened with running.  I recall going to my first leadership conference about nine years ago.  I have been back to the same conference almost every year since.  The first one I attended was held in a facility that seated about 2,000 people, and every seat was not taken.  That same event is now held in an arena that holds 10,000, and there are very few empty seats available, with the premium seating selling out 6 months in advance. So is leadership just another “fad” to eventually fade away?

Leadership is certainly a word we hear quite a bit nowadays.  We hear it in the press, we hear about it from politicians, and we talk about it in our law firms and business organizations.  But what is it really?  Is it just another way to say that a person is a good organizer of events, or a good manager of resources?

The word leadership seems to be one of those words that mean different things to different people; sort of like the word “hero”.  “Hero” seems to apply equally both to successful NFL quarterbacks and those who risk their own lives to save the lives of others.  To some folks “leadership” is primarily about having a position of power and force.  In many law firms, leadership is viewed in this same manner, with most lawyers not really understanding that one of their main roles is to positively influence clients in some of the most important life decisions; and that is truly leadership at its core.

It is my hope this blog will provide lawyer leaders with guidance on what leadership is really all about, how they can become as effective as possible in influencing others to action, and how universal leadership principles can be most effectively applied in the unique setting of a law firm.

It is my hope you will come to see that true leadership, defined in relation to service of others, is not just the latest fad.           

Helping Lawyers Lead Others Effectively and Strategically

Welcome to the Strategic Legal Leadership Blog.  My hope is that I can help lawyers to be better leaders in the practice of law, and in their professional lives.  Being a lawyer is about leading others in a positive way.  It is primarily about influence.  One of the most basic definitions of leadership is simply “influence”.  Being a lawyer is therefore very much about being a leader. 

Over twelve years of leading my law firm as managing partner, as well as many more years in leadership positions within my law firm and other professional organizations, I have come to realize that theories of leadership are very easy to understand, but not as easy to apply.  I hope that through this blog I might help others understand my views on the application of basic leadership laws and principles to leadership of a law firm and the clients the firm says it serves.      

I hope you will check back at least weekly.  I hope you will find my insight and experience of leading lawyers helpful in your own law practice, professional organization or business.