Earlier this summer we asked our readers to respond to a survey on leadership – the definition, the skills, and the solutions in your firm. We wanted to understand how you see the industry, was it a different view from ours? Were our Nesso and Legal Leadership Institute clients seeing the same leadership impact points that we are?
We started by asking you to define what is means to be a leader, and we found that the majority of folks described leading by example (“walk the talk”) while keeping the staff and the firm on track now and into the future. Into the future has our attention, as we see the opportunity for developing leaders as a way to advance the legal industry, and the legal profession.
Harvard Business Review thinks so too as they report strategy as 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. Strategic focus is future focus, and the long range approach to problem solving is deemed twice as important as communication.
We asked our respondents to tell us the most important leadership skills, and overwhelmingly communication was top of the list. Strategic planning and succession planning rounded out the top three, with self-awareness and change management close behind. This confirms that you already know where to put your energy to drive your firm’s forward. The question becomes how many of you are doing it?
Strategic thinking is a skill, like any other, which requires attention to develop. It is one element of a good leadership development program, although our survey reported most firms do not have a formal training program for leaders. Those that do, however, rated their current leaders a full point higher than those firms who do not (5.8 vs. 4.8, on a 7 point scale). We are pleased to report that our clients invest in twice as much training than other respondents, understanding that people have a direct influence on the profit of their firms.
We all know the numbers by generation, and you do too, as your prioritized succession and strategic planning as necessary skills. Critical to the legacy of existing firms is the thoughtful and deliberate mentoring and development of high potential leaders, done in increments that allow for knowledge-based tasks to continue while emotional intelligence skills are heightened. The development of coaching circles in the corporate sector was long ago, and now law firms are beginning to see this tool as a wonderful compliment to training and mentoring.
Our respondents responded that communication skills are most important, and that they currently provide training in this area, and there is opportunity for more. We agree completely! Communication (and conflict as an offshoot of that) is the cornerstone of relationships, and great leaders are communicating in the present and toward the future. If you are in a firm not currently providing any training for your leaders, consider a reflective exercise where you pause at the end of a meeting to decide what will get communicated from this meeting, who will need to hear it, and what will the message include. This will begin development of your leaders’ communication skills in a new way.
We agree with you, an excellent leadership development program starts with self-awareness and strategic thinking, which expands into your communication skills and change management. If you aren’t currently supporting leadership development in your firm, I hope these results, and the included resources, will encourage you to consider how your bottom line is impacted by your current leaders, and how much more benefit there could be from developing this generation, and next, for your firm.
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