This is part four of our Leadership for Lawyers series.
Even the most gifted, natural leaders need to study the art of their craft. We find that the following fundamental ideas are the ones worth contemplation and revisiting in order to hone your craft.
Humans are Tribal and Need Leaders
The most fundamental thing you need to know about leadership is this: humans need and want to be led.We are tribal creatures, and worldwide and throughout history, every single human collective includes someone making the tough choices and leading the charge.
Humans feel safe and secure with direction, and as much as we want autonomy and a say in our direction, we feel snug and cozy if someone else is calling the shots.
Whether the group is a small law firm, a fortune 500 company, a country, a football team or a tribe of nomads: humans organize around a leader. This tendency is so deeply woven into our biology, like the need for sleep, that we don’t even recognize it.
The one who leads is the one charting the course and making the ultimate decisions. You may recognize that this is your role, but you might not recognize how deeply your staff needs you to lead on a fundamentally human level.
If you’re running a small law firm there’s a good chance that you’re a leader by default. You know a thing or two about the law, and you have a staff to help you out, but becoming a leader was not something you set out to do.
Well guess what: Your team wants you to lead and you have to pick up the gauntlet. You must recognize that you need to own your role, be the leader they want you to be, and build the strongest tribe possible.
Easier Said Than Done: Delegation and Follow-Up
You have a couple of choices when you build a team: you can choose to do most of the work yourself or delegate. It’s fine to do most of the work yourself if that’s what you enjoy doing – after all, life is short. But if you wish to grow your business or set your firm up so that you can get some downtime and take vacations, you’re going to have to learn to hand work off effectively.
For some, delegation is a very difficult leap of faith. To them, not doing the work themselves seems impossible. For others, like me, I cannot delegate fast enough. The second I can offload a task, I run screaming in the other direction.
In either case, you need to a) know and remember what you’ve assigned people to work on and b) hold them accountable for it. If you don’t keep track of what you’ve assigned, you might overload people (or give them too little).
If you don’t hold people accountable for work you’ve assigned, they may develop a “this too shall pass” attitude, and not execute your directives, waiting until you forget about them.
A system like Rocket Matter or others with assignable tasks which tie into matters helps lawyers delegate. Rocket Matter, for example, allows you to define tasks and give them to people, assigning them due dates, matters, and even tags, so you can keep track of your items in a legal context. Evernote is also a good choice too – you can set up a note for each direct report and keep track of them there.
Avoid Monkeys on Your Desk
This is a gem and a corollary to delegation. While building our organization I picked up one of the single-most valuable tidbits I ever heard: when you come to someone with a problem, you are putting a monkey on their desk. And eventually, there are monkeys ALL OVER that person’s desk.
And we are not talking cute, little finger monkeys. We are talking big, shrieking monkeys who will rip your arms off. You do not want these monkeys on your desk.
So make sure this rule is followed in your organization: when someone gives another person a problem, they must first describe three possible solutions to the problem and identify which of the three they think is the best one.
This simple practice decreases stress for everyone. It gives the person with the problem a greater sense of control and autonomy (an important need for employees). It forces them to slow down and think through the problem.
It gives the person receiving the problem more information, as possible solutions will illuminate the problem from a different angle, and it also increases the odds that the issue will be resolved immediately.
Alignment Takes Work – It Doesn’t Just Happen
Keeping people on the same page in an organization is of vital importance, especially when it comes to key initiatives. It also happens to be incredibly difficult and requires constant and conscious effort.
It’s very tough to ensure everyone understands everything the same way. Humans bring their own interpretations and biases to things.
Unless you deliver a consistent message with thorough examination, alignment will not happen. Until you actively probe and pursue alignment and get people on the same page, question them on how they understand something and make corrections as necessary, you will not be on the same page.
And email doesn’t cut it. Words are only part of a message. For alignment to occur, communication needs to happen face to face, with the total picture being formed with vocal inflection, body language and all of the cues that go with them.
Think about the last time you had a miscommunication with someone. Now multiply that miscue exponentially when you have a group of people together. It’s easy to see how important initiatives can get derailed and break down.
My organization runs daily team stand-ups, weekly management meetings, quarterly off-sites, and I conduct weekly one-on-ones with my direct reports. In spite of our dedication to communication in this way, we still can deviate from one another if we’re not careful. Not everyone always speaks up, or people hear things through the filter of their own personal biases. It is like weeding a garden: it’s a constant battle to beat back the forces of confusion.
Posting key initiatives and major goals visibly will help. Holding synch-up meetings will help. Going to lunch with people and getting their perspective on things will go a long way as well. But no meeting rhythm and internal messaging will accomplish anything if you’re not actively monitoring to make sure the message is getting through.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Leadership for Lawyers: The Biggest Indicator of Success
A Suggested Leadership Reading List
Leadership for Lawyers: How to Conduct a Strategic Planning Meeting
Leadership for Lawyers: The Fundamental Things You Need to Know