Lawyers as Leaders

April 8, 2014

What kind of lawyer are youIn the legal profession, leadership too often consists of not much more than “Do what I say, do it now, because I am the boss and I said so.”   There is a pervasive sentiment that those we lead should be happy to be employed and therefore should do without question or hesitation whatever it is that we want.

It is an interesting philosophy.  But, in truth, the idea that a “This is who I am, so deal with it” attitude is going to yield results is nothing short of ridiculous.   Despite your sincere belief in this mindset and your commitment to the idea, data on organizational effectiveness, human performance and behavioral science do not support this leadership approach.

For unknown reasons (fear and insecurity are likely suspects), many lawyers perceive something wrong with wanting to be liked.  They interpret this desire as a sign of weakness.  This is a crying shame.

There is power in being popular.  What the data does demonstrate is that when people like you, they will do a lot for you.   Perhaps this why Dr. Daniel Goleman has found that commanding and pacesetting leadership styles have limited impact whereas affiliative, coaching, democratic, and visionary styles get more bang for the buck.   It is human nature to respond more positively to “What do you think?” than to “Do what I tell you” and “Do as I do, now.”

This leadership assessment does not apply only to your peers and direct reports, but is relevant with regard to your clients as well.  Clients hire people they like.  Clients give repeat business to people they like.  Clients are more loyal to people they like.  As good as you are if you do not connect with your client or worse yet rub him the wrong way, your shelf life is limited.

I recently heard Doris Kearns Goodwin speak about her newest book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  One of the insights she shared with the audience was that Theodore Roosevelt was a man who “used simple language” and who could “relate with anyone.”  She explained that Teddy Roosevelt was a leader who appreciated the importance of personal relationships.

At first blush it may seem ironic that a book containing the word “bully” in the title is about a man who led neither by an iron fist nor the force of his will.  However, it is quite apt.  Teddy Roosevelt coined “bully pulpit” to mean an exceptional platform from which to lead and effect change.  And, his relationship-based leadership style was the embodiment of that idea.  If this approach worked for the 26th president of the United States, the very man who gave us five national parks, then there likely is something to be learned from him.

So many of us have lost sight of the power of personality, persuasion, pleasantries, and politeness.  Instead we mistakenly hone in on the authority and status aspects of leading.  It is odd since without people there is no one to lead at all.  Relationships are the heart and backbone of leadership.  The rest is an afterthought.

It would serve us well to remember that just because we can get someone to do what we want them to do and because we can hold them hostage with a paycheck or the upper hand that does not mean we are a leader.   We are fooling ourselves by thinking that we are not hurt by this approach.  We may get results, compliance, and make some money but it is less than what we could achieve with real leadership.

Conjure Teddy Roosevelt once in a while.  The most popular children’s toy of all-time was named after him.  There must be something to that, right?