In the course of our careers, we don’t often have the opportunity to pick who our leaders will be. Usually that decision is made from folks above our pay grade. But as Americans, we do get a chance to choose our leaders and are once again in the process of doing so.
Red or blue, progressive or conservative, we look for the qualities and characteristics that we believe are required to make the president an effective leader.
However, as we ascend into positions of authority and leadership ourselves, we often fail to conduct that same thoughtful analysis of our own leadership qualities.
Elevation to partnership or a position in firm management is often based on hard work, legal or business acumen, and the ability to generate revenue for the firm. All of these are, of course, essential elements to a successful legal career.
All of these say absolutely nothing about how effective you will be as a law firm leader.
Whether you will be a successful law firm leader comes down to a number of qualities that aren’t taught in law school. In many respects, they aren’t even the same qualities that make you an effective lawyer.
In fact, the foundation of strong leadership isn’t even about leading others. It’s about powerfully leading yourself. It’s about developing the habits and honing the skills that inspire others to follow you because they see in you someone they want as their leader, not just someone they have to be led by according to a management chart.
If you want to be a successful law firm leader, focus on these seven core habits:
1. Emotional Intelligence
Think back to college or law school. We all had at least one professor who was absolutely brilliant, a thought leader in their field, but who was actually abysmal at teaching. Substantive intelligence does not necessarily translate into an ability to connect with others or effectively help them develop their own knowledge and skills.
Emotional and social intelligence – awareness of your own behavior and assumptions and how they impact those who you want to lead – are perhaps the most important factors in distinguishing outstanding leadership from average leadership. Emotional intelligence enables leaders to deal with their own internal responses, moods and states of mind. Social intelligence is about how we understand and interact with others.
Leaders who develop emotional and social intelligence are effective because they are better able to manage themselves well under stress and during uncertain times. They are extremely in tune to what other people are thinking and feeling so they can better motivate and inspire others. When we talk about emotional intelligence, we recognize that self-awareness is the foundation of it. Self-awareness is about knowing yourself, (your own character, feelings, motives and desires) which then enables you to make positive choices about how you respond to people and situations.
2. Owning It
Pointing fingers. Throwing someone under the bus. Passing the buck. Whatever turn of phrase you prefer, a default instinct to assign blame and avoid responsibility when things don’t go well is a sign of poor leadership. Not that other people won’t make mistakes; they will. But so will you. Resist the impulse to attack and blame others without considering your own role and acknowledging your own shortcomings. Take responsibility yourself before asking others to do so.
A term that was first coined over a century ago, “empathy” has many definitions. Its essence, however, is the ability to understand the feelings, outlook, and needs of others from their perspective. As Atticus Finch told Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Transformational leaders need empathy in order to show their followers that they care for their needs and achievement. It’s become increasingly evident that business leaders who are capable of experiencing and demonstrating empathy have greater success.
4. Fail Better
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
Leaders learn from everyone and everything. They are willing to try new things, fail, and continuously seek ways to improve towards mastery. They seek advice and accept constructive criticism without getting defensive or holding it against the person providing it. Treat failure or disappointment as opportunities to learn and improve.
5. Manage Stress
You know stress. You’ve lived with stress in school and in your practice for years. It is an inevitable part of life. What’s not inevitable is responding to stress in a negative or counter-productive way. Stress may not be avoidable, but it is manageable. Find a stress-management solution that works for you. It could be exercise, it could be meditation, or it could be cranking up your favorite song. Whatever helps you handle stress will also help your team.
6. Be a Source of Vision and Possibility
Failure and stress can lead to feelings or resignation and hopelessness. When others want to give up, a good leader provides inspiration, context, and a plan for moving forward. Your team will look to you for guidance and direction, and you need to provide it. Tell them what’s possible; provide a vision for the future that incorporates the hard lessons of the past; encourage them to recognize and seize new opportunities.
7. Don’t Stop – Be Leading
Great leaders choose to lead, even when they would rather be doing other things. They accept and welcome the mantle of responsibility and understand that leadership is in many ways a 24/7 role. Embrace the role of leader and show your team that it is an essential part of who you are.
You may not get to vote for the leader of our country for a number of months. But you can elect to adopt these crucial leadership habits right now.