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March 31, 2009


What was your New Year's resolution? Perhaps you've resolved to become a better administrator -- an admirable goal. But remember, effective law firm leaders not only take pains to develop their own leadership skills, they also assume an active role in identifying, coaching, and nurturing potential leaders as well.

Today's law firm professionals (especially those struggling to survive and prosper during less-than-optimal economic conditions) must consistently work on their leadership skills, Law Office Management & Administration Report believes. And we're not just talking about leadership as defined by one's place on the firm's organizational chart, but in the sense of feeling empowered to take the initiative to get the job done in the most effective manner possible, assisting with problem-solving as needed, and the like.

A new study shows how organizations are approaching leadership development.
According to the 2002 Global Leadership Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), global organizations are using a variety of methods to find and train potential leaders.

Key findings:

  • 57% said their organizations use external leadership training programs provided by universities and executive education or professional organizations.
  • 51% conduct internal leadership training programs.
  • 48% rely on temporary"stretch" assignments designed to develop new skills and competencies.
  • 41% put future leaders through a demanding assignment to test them and develop their management skills.
  • 22% use a formal mentoring program.

Law Office Management & Administration Report would add coaching to this list.
"As useful as leadership development programs are in helping people learn how to be successful executives," they alone can't personalize the process.And personalizing leadership development is what it takes. Dotlich and Cairo define this as "matching an individual's leadership beliefs and behaviors to the way in which the organization wants him [or her] to lead." In the past, they say, leadership training set up a model of certain leadership qualities and told people, "Learn these and make them your own."

Today, however, people won't blindly follow such a model and they won't respond to leaders simply telling them what to do. And that's where tailoring leadership development to individuals comes in. Leaders need to motivate a diverse workforce in many different ways." Organizations are becoming increasingly aware that the old patriarchal, white-leader model is not relevant for a majority of their workforce and that the prototypical leadership qualities don't resonate with women, African Americans, and Gen. Xers."More important, employers are recognizing that they don't want everyone to be the same type of leader." They realize that not only does Mary's personality make it impossible for her to fit the old leadership model, but if she is to be successful in leading a recently acquired company, she needs to lead with tact, sensitivity, and an intuitive sense of fairness. This same employer, however, may require Laura to lead with an iron will and an ability to balance short-term results with long range planning. All this translates into different leadership styles for different company needs."

The purpose of coaching is to find a way for people to understand and connect their personalities, styles, and abilities with the organization's culture and needs.

Whether you are coaching a professional who is new or seasoned, Dotlich and Cairo counsel you first to take the following steps:

Step 1: Foster insight and understanding. High achievers often resist change unless they receive startling information about where they're falling short or where they need to develop new skills." The shock of a sudden insight motivates them to change. Many individuals are used to looking outward, not inward. That's fine; you want people to keep an eye on business goals," the authors note. However, they add, when people lack insight about why they do something, they're less able to change the behavior that causes them to fall short of goals.

Step 2: Help members of your law firm take responsibility. Some of your firm's junior members may recognize on an intellectual level that they need to manage time more efficiently, for instance. Emotionally, however, they may be unable to take personal responsibility for this and blame their workload. Your challenge is to help them accept their poor time-management skills as the culprit. It may be enough to remind them that the firm is counting on them and that they've been chosen to do this job, the authors say.

Step 3: Encourage commitment to change. Things change when dissatisfaction is stronger than acceptance of the status quo, when a first step is clear, and when support is provided. You need to help members of your firm acknowledge what they don't like about the current situation and create a vision of a better future and a roadmap for getting there.

A list of questions is the best tool you have to help you explore what you don't know (see below, "Use These Questions to Help Yourself Grow"). These suggestions willstimulate you to consider changes to the present situation. You can also pose other questions to explore people's goals for themselves, their careers, and your law firm. Often, members of your firm have been in one position so long that they have lostsight of their hopes and dreams.

Use These Questions to Help Yourself Grow

  • What would happen if you asked for help in an area in which you are unskilled?
  • What's stopping you from requesting a change? lIf you quit today, what regrets would youhave?
  • How might you deal with a conflict without resorting to a win-lose posture?
  • Why do you want to lead, and why should others follow you?
  • What legacy do you want to leave behind? What do you want people to say about you afteryou've left your current role?
  • What are your vulnerabilities, and where could things fall apart?
  • What can you do to renew yourself? Your team? Your department? Your organization?

How to identify the potential leaders in your law firm. Sixty-seven percent of the SHRM survey respondents have an internal process through which managers recommend individuals for leadership. Sixty-five percent use performance management, and 49% have senior management select potential candidates.

The sidebar "Leadership Assessment Diagnostic" is a useful tool for assessing your skills and those of members of your law firm. It is excerpted from the InfoLine booklet Leadership Development, by the American Society for Training & Development. The booklet calls leadership development a system that "takes into account how your organization functions, what it rewards, and what it values."

Leadership development sets the stage for success by empowering lawyers and staff to develop their skills and competencies by improving retention; providing a foundation for training the next generation of leaders; and focusing on how managers lead, develop, and partner with their employees. The ASTD booklet lists the following "ingredients" for a leadership development "recipe":

1. Knowledge. Successful leaders fully understand their industry, business operations, and profession.
2. Strategic thinking. This involves balancing long- and short-term thinking, understanding in-tended and unintended results, and creating vision and strategy based on innovative thinking.
3. Communication skills. "Leaders are only as successful as their ability to communicate ideas, knowledge, and information." Effective communication enhances cooperation and team productivity.
4. Self-awareness. Leaders who know themselves well have a baseline for skill development as well as giving themselves the opportunity to identify their shortcomings, seek feedback, and continue to learn.
5. Developing others. This is the final phase of leadership development. It includes working with others to create personal and professional development plans and improve skill sets, personal success, organizational success, and retention.

Leadership Assessment Diagnostic

Rate yourself (and your charges) on the following 25 leadership skills, using this scale:1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = partly agree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree.

____ 1. Balances focusing on the future with an understandingof present conditions and events from the past.
____ 2. Can maintain self-awareness despite externalinterference, challenges, or unexpected events.
____ 3. Enables others to achieve their objectives throughregular one-on-one meetings.
____ 4. Takes time to get updated on current events.
____ 5. Gives undivided attention, shows interest, andsuspends judgment in conversation.
____ 6. Demonstrates integrity in the face of challenges andadversity.
____ 7. Shows respect when questioning the ideas andopinions of others.
____ 8. Challenges others to capitalize on their unrealizedpotential.
____ 9. Regularly attends industry functions and trade shows.
____ 10. Explores, identifies, and defines the nature, causes,and implications of problems.
____ 11. Demonstrates consistency of expressed beliefs,values, and actions.
____ 12. Assists others in taking responsibility, setting goals,and taking action to solve problems.
____ 13. Assesses whether the strategist, coaching, or contentexpertrole is most appropriate for dealing with the person andthe situation -- and shifts appropriately into that role.
____ 14. Possesses an understanding of business operations(budgeting, resource allocations, recruitment, etc.).
____ 15. Manages time in a way that balances personal andprofessional objectives.
____ 16. Focuses on the results of a process or plan.
____ 17. Can build relationships and ask questions/support avariety of initiatives to influence the entire organization.
____ 18. Demonstrates an understanding of living and leadingby example.
____ 19. Can identify and develop skills and effective behaviorin others.
____ 20. Possesses technical competencies to achieve goalsand objectives.
____ 21. Consistently and clearly communicates the desiredresults of a process or plan.
____ 22. Aligns people's visions, values, goals, and actionplans with those of the organization.
____ 23. Possesses an understanding of industry trends.
____ 24. Identifies and helps to remedy self-defeatingbehaviors in self and others.
____ 25. Is ready to change and overcome the blocks to movingahead by recognizing the stages of group and organizationaldevelopment.


Total the responses by group of questions as follows:
Knowledge (Questions 4, 9, 14, 20, and 23) ________
Strategy (Questions 1, 10, 16, 22, and 25) ________
Communication (Questions 5, 7, 13, 17, and 21) ________
Development (Questions 3, 8, 12, 19, and 24) ________
Self-awareness (Questions 2, 6, 11, 15, and 18) ________

Total of all groups ________

1 to 10: The individual needs to take immediate action toimprove skills, performance, and results. Consult the managerand other available resources.
11 to 19: The individual needs to move to the next level bydeveloping action plans that can be implemented in two weeks.
20 to 25: This individual is performing well as a leader, but mayneed specific action plans in certain areas to optimize his/herperformance and that of the team.
(Source: American Society for Training & Development)


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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