Up-Leveling your Leadership and Management Skills

I have to be honest, I believe that Ellen Ripley in Alien demonstrates some of the greatest management and leadership skills. During the time of crisis (aka an alien infestation and attack), Ellen steps up and is there for her crew. Ellen stays cool, appreciates her team, and develops innovative strategies. 

While we may not have aliens to deal with, COVID has made clear the importance of strong leadership and management skills. There are tremendous demands placed on attorneys both at home and at work. Attorneys are not in the office as much, and when they are there, people are making more requests for that time.

However, even outside of COVID - it is critical to amp up your leadership and management skills. Leaders with excellent skills created more efficient, engaged, and creative teams. And it is even more crucial to demonstrate these skills when managing highly skilled professionals, like lawyers who have many career options.

When you lead teams of professionals, you should look at leadership through the wants and needs of the employee, not yourself.

Here are some quick tips for effectively managing and leading lawyers.

Show passion:

Working 60-90 hours per week and taking limited vacations that are often interrupted by work, it's critical that attorneys love their work to avoid burnout. When you lead by example and demonstrate a passion for what you do, you make it easier for your team to do the same.

If you come to work as a "Negative Nelly," your team will follow suit. On the other hand, if you demonstrate passion and engagement, they do the same. Often the times I worked my hardest were my favorite times working. And it all had to do with the leadership galvanizing us behind their passion and vision.  

Strengthen abilities:

Teams appreciate leaders who recognize and invest in their talent. Currently, there is a war for talent in the legal industry, so developing people makes excellent economic sense – it is also the right thing to do.

People must continuously update and refine their skills with less job security, more global competition, and skill-sets constantly shifting. Leaders need to look beyond skills required today and help their lawyers learn skills they will need tomorrow. Upgrading talent means finding development opportunities and giving timely and actionable feedback. When you focus on talent development, you will teach the team to invest in themselves, create more significant impact and engagement and develop a robust talent pipeline.

Appreciate time:

People have less time today, which means the value of that time has increased. Leaders who waste their workers' time or wait until Friday evening to spring assignments are not looked upon favorably. While we all know that "dull" tasks must be completed, ensure they are assigned to the right level and balanced with exciting and challenging work. Leaders will be far more successful if they limit their team's time on assignments that neither encourage their passions nor enhance their abilities.

Build networks:

Today, career security comes from having the ability, passion, a solid professional profile, and a great network. Leaders who enable and encourage people to form strong networks both inside and outside their organizations will gain a substantial competitive advantage along with employee loyalty. These professional networks allow people to expand their knowledge and bring it back to the organization.

When I was in-house, I had a well-earned reputation of "breaking up" my teams from talking to each other at networking events. I was not trying to hurt team morale. I knew that my team needed to expand their connections and develop relationships outside of our circle to grow in their careers. My team knew and appreciated why I did this. They knew that I invested in them and their success. Many of those individuals have thanked me for doing this because their discussions with others opened up many career opportunities.

Support growth:

The best attorneys work for more than money. They want to contribute, have a significant impact, and grow in their fields. Leaders should ask, "What can our organization do to help you grow and achieve your goals?" And then, they should provide advice, guidance, and, if possible, resources to help that lawyer. If you make this investment, you will find it pays for itself many times over.

I strongly recommend that you do not take a cookie-cutter approach to talent development. Also, make sure that you do not presume to know the answer as to what the attorney needs. I have found that each person is different, and there can be a host of wants and needs.

Expand happiness and meaning:

While no one wants to work at a meaningless job that makes them unhappy, this is even more true for new generations into the workplace (by newer I mean newer than me).

When I had one of my teams conduct a purpose assessment, it was clear that my entire group, minus me, thrived on having a purpose in their work. To be fair, it was important to me, but not as important as it was to the rest of the team. Once I understood this, I knew that I needed to take different team approaches to achieve full engagement.

To be successful as a leader, you must motivate your team. To do that, you must show your lawyers how the organization can help them contribute to the larger world and feel rewarded for doing something about which they are passionate.

Leading attorneys is challenging and rewarding (and, to be honest, my favorite part of my corporate career). To be successful, leaders must look beyond the work and think about the working attorney. By appreciating and encouraging the dedication, time, and experience of their attorneys, leaders help shape the futures of the professionals they lead and the future of their organizations.

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Ready to make it rain?

Check out Sheila's TOP 3 REASONS THAT YOUR BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT IS IN A DROUGHT & HOW TO MAKE IT RAIN where she shares the top reasons that your business development efforts are not producing the results you want and what to do to remedy it in both the short and long term.

Sheila Murphy

Founder of Focus Forward Consulting

For over 20 years, as a former senior legal officer for a Fortune 50 company, I successfully developed, coached and transformed talent in corporations and law firms, as well as...