Leadership. We hear the concept all of the time, but what does it really mean? When you get appointed or elected to that huge position, such as managing partner of the law firm, or CEO of a company or legal organization, what does that really entail? What is being a leader really all about?
Over my years of management and leadership of my law firm, and other organizations I have had the opportunity to help lead, I have come to the conclusion that if you want to be a leader instead of just the holder of a position or title, there are several key characteristics or functions:
Envision – The first job of a leader is to envision the future, and to cast that vision to others. Where there is no vision, the firm will perish. That may not have been the belief of most law firm owners of the past; but the fact is that times have changed, and are continually changing, and law firms need to be operated like business organizations. The competitive environment requires visionary leadership.
Engage – Not only must a leader cast and sell a vision for the future to members, but those who hear about that vision need to be engaged by the leader. This involved three main actions:
- Equip – Leaders need to make sure that others in the organization are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. For a law firm leader this means not only providing the tools and support that each person needs, but to work to create a culture that that supports each member in his or her efforts on behalf of the firm.
- Empower – Leaders need to equip, and then get out of the way. They do this by empowering those on the team or the firm. There is a mix of authority, discipline and maintenance of established values of quality that a leader needs to reinforce in order to move the firm more in the direction of a 21st century team, instead of just a group of autonomous individual practitioners. This mix is the sweet spot where firm members feel supported and empowered.
- Encourage – Once those in the firm feel equipped and empowered, true engagement in the firm’s vision will be realized when the leader provides encouragement. This may be a simple private word of thanks or congratulations, or public acknowledgment of success, but it is an integral part of successful engagement.
Evaluate – This is a most difficult, but absolutely necessary, function of effective leadership. Leaders evaluate plans, they evaluate strategies, and they evaluate members on the team. They may evaluate team leaders, or they may evaluate the individual members within the organization, depending on the size of the group. They evaluate to not only punish or reward, but for the purpose of understanding existing firm culture, and supporting appropriate change.
Ensure Existence – Too many people in leadership positions focus quite heavily on the present; managing problems and assuring that the firm has resources to meet current payroll. These are obviously important functions that must be taken care of, however if “the present” is all on the shoulders of the leader, the future is neglected. It is a key duty of the leader to learn how to appropriately delegate so that there is time to plan and execute the future. Therefore every leader must assure that the future is brighter for the firm when he or she leaves the position, than when the leader took the position on.
As I wrote the above, I realized that in some of the above areas I have excelled, and in some I have fallen woefully short over the years (with much learning at the College of Hard Knocks). One thing I did realize however, is that regardless of how I have done in all of these areas, they are considerations for every leader to consider. I wish you well in your endeavor to be an effective servant leader of those in your firm.