Leadership is a concept that we don’t spend much time discussing. We know who the leaders are, those people whose names are on the door. And we know what leadership looks like, it’s what the leaders tell us to do.
But is that really what leadership is all about?
Times of crisis can bring out the best or the worst in leaders. The COVID-19 health crisis is a case study at the ready. Take a few minutes to scan the list to see where you fit on the leadership scale.
Great leaders stay on top of data
Garbage in, garbage out is how we refer to whether the information in our database is accurate. This also applies to the information we need to make decisions. Disaster preparation occurs in law, such as when we anticipate weather emergencies. Many of our firm leaders have had to decide whether to close the office in the wake of a weather warning or how to continue to serve clients following a flood. But not many of us have had to deal with an infectious disease calamity. As a result, we are trying to gather information in real time.
As a leader, you need to make sure you are accessing the best data possible. You need a clearinghouse for the data, whether it is you or someone on your team. Designate a data czar and share that name with everyone. People then know to whom to forward the latest articles or raise concerns.
Great leaders recognize that even while meeting client needs and daily operations, a new crisis means devoting time to gathering new data.
Great leaders make decisions
Decision making is hard. Especially when you must reach consensus, make decisions by committee, or wait for all the decision makers to focus on the issue at hand.
However, being a law firm leader requires that difficult decisions must be made and made timely.
There are ways to improve the decision-making process. Have a lean team making the decisions. Once a process is in place to collect the data, leaders need to rely on the data to reach a decision. Avoid decision fatigue by having process and procedure in place so that leaders are not making hundreds of decisions every day. Set a time limit to provide the pressure of reaching a decision timely.
Great leaders listen
Two ears for listening, one mouth for talking. Did your mom ever share that homily with you? It’s good advice.
During a time of crisis, great leaders listen to their constituents’ fears and concerns. It can be tempting to think you know what is best for everyone. And that your position within the firm allows you the authority to make the decision. But listening allows people to feel heard and tells them that their voice matters. They will trust your decision-making process more if it includes a listening component.
Great leaders listen twice as much as they talk.
Great leaders communicate
When people discuss life in a law firm, one of the most common complaints is a failure to communicate. While there is some information that must be safeguarded, for the most part, we err on the side of withholding too much information. As firm leadership meets to discuss how to handle a firm crisis such as COVID-19, do you share information as you make decisions? Or does your staff see you gather at 10:00 a.m. in the conference room, but they don’t get the memo until 4:00 p.m.? Does your staff know that you make salary adjustments at the February partners meeting, but you don’t share the information with them until the day before paychecks are deposited in March?
Lawyers are busy. That goes without saying. But the reality is that everyone is busy. And the more information your team has, the less time they spend worrying, and wondering, and losing productivity.
Great leaders make decisions, then communicate clearly and as quickly as possible.
Great leaders have empathy
When people express fear, worry, or anger, great leaders have empathy. Great leaders do not retaliate. Great leaders do not mock. Great leaders do not discount others’ emotions.
We can improve our empathy muscle. Walk in other peoples’ shoes. Challenge yourself to tackle experiences that take you outside your comfort zone. Seek feedback from people in person and have conversations though they may be uncomfortable. Examine the emotion presented, not just the data. Ask questions. Examine your biases.
Great leaders recognize that when people have an unexpected reaction to your decision, you must lean into empathy. This doesn’t mean your decision necessarily has to change, but expressing empathy is what keeps your team following you even when they disagree with you.
Great leaders reassess
I was five business days away from hosting a conference with 70 people, my Managing Partner Summit. During the day on Wednesday (before my upcoming Tuesday conference), I was on the phone with my venue, my keynote speaker, my caterer, and my sponsors. On Wednesday evening, I sent out an email telling registrants the conference was moving forward. On Thursday, the situation deteriorated quickly, it seemed everything in North Carolina was cancelled due to COVID-19, including schools, universities, sporting events, and more. By Friday morning, I was back on the phone with my venue, my keynote speaker, my caterer, and my sponsors. Before lunch, I sent out an email telling registrants the conference was cancelled.
In a fast-moving situation, great leaders continue to re-assess the situation and make changes as necessary.
Trust = Leadership
Trust is an essential element of leadership. Effective leadership impacts every aspect of your law practice. If you exercise these six skills, you will build trust and strengthen relationships even in times of crisis.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at [email protected] or 919.677.8900.