Legal Leadership – Visionary or Vacant?

Legal Leadership – Visionary or Vacant?

I was just reading a Forbes article about the top 3 burning issues in law firm’s – highlighted in 2017. I’ve worked with a number of legal professionals and this top 3 really resonated with what I’ve been experiencing and hearing. Here’s my take on the key challenges:

  • Vision and Strategy – gone are the times when being the top fee earner was all a firm is strategically focused on – or indeed extremely reactive leadership which only reacts to day to day events. MORE is required these days to engage firm staff, clients and other stakeholders in a meaningful strategic vision and aspirational brand values.  More forward thinking firms are moving into this evolving paradigm because they recognise the world has moved on. People want a more common purpose, inspiration and fulfilment. Being technically excellent is no longer enough
  • Succession Planning & Developing Talent – many firms are in a new era of leadership transition. They are looking at one or two years ahead where managing partners who have been in the firm for 10-20, sometime nearly 30 years are about to retire. Reflection on the old paradigm of this kind of term is bringing about a realisation that in order for firms to grow, their leadership needs to be more fresh, creative and forward thinking. The old paradigm of long serving partners may be consistent and solid but can also create stagnation and client silos. Firms need emerging partners, associates who have the strategic engagement skills to deliver client development AND bring about a compelling strategic vision
  • Cultural Congruency – the practise in many law firms has been to segregate departments and recruit laterally based on industry groupings or areas of law. However cross cultural alignment can be a big issue across firms. Employment law departments can foster a very different culture in comparison to say conveyancing which can be far more transactional. Firm leaders need to have the aptitude and adaptability to engage and serve clients across the firm. It’s a real challenge for firms to create a common culture when head of departments may be at odds in both their leadership style and their willingness to invest in the firm’s strategic leadership development

I’ve recently been doing some research for a leadership programme – with varied feedback from legal firms of different sizes and complexity. The themes I’ve pulled from this so far, plus feedback from clients, has reflected similar challenges. I think it’s immensely positive that some firms are aware of their barriers to growth – the next step is doing something about it! And of course engaging their firm is key – enrolling themselves, teams, clients and other stakeholders to ‘get on the train’ as it were.

Here are 3 top tips then to reflect on…

  • Leadership Capacity – invest the time to look at where the firm’s leadership is in relation to both current growth and challenges, where’s the gap? What are the challenges telling you? I’m a great believer in challenges being the biggest opportunity for growth. Is the leadership resisting challenges or getting aligned with the reality of change – and most importantly what clients needs are
  • Pro-active Leadership – engage partners and stakeholders in developing a vision for the future – one which is not just about technical or financial growth but HOW this vision is going to be lead. What is it going to take in the existing (or up and coming) leadership to build the firm’s evolving world? Making the time and investment to consciously choose how to lead is very different from batting off challenges as they arise
  • Collective Leadership Vision – invest in the development of both existing leadership and emerging talent. Review how the firm can commit to empowering and harnessing talent, those who are going to be leading the firm into the distant future. Create openness and honesty about the existing capabilities and barriers of current leadership behaviours. Develop both individual leadership visions and a collective leadership vision which inspires, creates clarity and ambition

So there you go! I’m passionate about individual and collective self awareness in firms, mostly because self awareness = choice. The choice to respond differently. The choice to be pro-active rather than reactive. How powerful would your firm be if you were consciously choosing how to behave? Wow!

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Empowering Leadership – the Three T’s

Empowering Leadership – the Three T’s

Hmmmm what a challenge eh – being an empowering leader. Many amazing leaders I know have become so because of their direct style and ability to ‘get things done’. Great! And quite often this style is perfect for an organisational context that needs a strong, clear direction.

What if the context though – and more importantly the feedback – is now saying something different?

I’ve had many conversations over the last few weeks with clients and others who have totally understandable challenges in making this transition. Especially those who work in a very politicised and/or heavily regulated industry. The reason I say this is because these environments tend to thrive in rigidity, fear and resentment – empowerment however doesn’t – and thus lies on the other side of this.  So how does one find the balance between effective corporate governance and creating a truly empowered organisation?

For me empowerment is the freeing up of myself and others to self solve, step forward, speak up, participate, create – essentially knowing we are free to BE ourselves. Thus it’s vital an organisation can create a context of openness, trust and courage. Only then will people learn to trust their capability, capacity and ability to handle whatever comes up – and get creative.

This is where high performing teams can powerfully emerge – teams knowing the importance of honesty and openness. Teams who recognise relationships are vital and make time to clear up clashes and misunderstandings so they can get back in the game – together.

FEAR is at the essence of this empowerment challenge, the basic reality of human condition that wants negate the fear of failure and protect oneself. The tragedy is that this mindset closes down openness, trust and courage and thus opportunities for higher performance, innovation and growth.

I put it to you my friends that these fears are an illusion. A lens through which we choose to see the world – and then act accordingly, reacting and behaving as if it’s true.

More often than not I see these fears played out by leaders wanting to create solutions or policies behind closed doors that create empowerment. However, isn’t this disempowering? Isn’t this another way to repeat the same fearful behaviour? How are stakeholders, teams included…engaged, PART OF the creation – rather than back to the old form of ‘consultation’ where the conversation may likely be already closed.

Of course it’s important to have clarity about the purpose, context and barriers. However for me the spirit of empowerment is much more than this. It’s an attitude of trust, openness and a willingness to be uncomfortable with one’s fears. To risk, to have the courage to role model a different way – even if it doesn’t work or create our hopes. I’ve found that being willing to trust the process and ride this rollercoaster takes courage and builds resilience! The great thing is that we will always get feedback, in one form or another, as to what’s working and what isn’t.

One of things I learnt last year about my own leadership (which quite honestly I have found extremely frightening at times) is that not I, nor anyone else, know the future. I can hope, dream, aspire, predict – give it my all – however I have no idea whether any of what I want will transpire. So I’m mostly feeling the fear and going for what I want – willing to risk never knowing the outcome. There’s a big difference between hoping and expecting. The former is open to possibility, the later a demand on the outcome.

Here’s my three T’s then, the qualities I’ve learnt and I’m continuously developing:

  • Trust – patience, patience, patience…willingness to let go and trust myself, others, the process. A willingness to risk NEVER knowing the outcome. Hoping vs. Expecting
  • Tenacity – the determination to keep going, keep the faith, trust that all is not lost if things don’t go my way. Including if there’s A LOT of course correcting, diversions, difficult choices to be made
  • Truthfulness – being honest with myself and others when we have a success (yey!!) or something isn’t working. Telling the truth is the most liberating, freeing experience I find and the one that keeps me connected with myself and others. And in terms of empowerment is key to creating openness and courage – to be with things as they ARE not as we’d like them to be.

I’m aware too that we all have a personal responsibility in how we show up, interact and engage. Through the amazing coaching tools I have, I know I have the ability to empower myself and others – I don’t need to wait or be given this by some other person or circumstance. I am also aware that sometimes for me it can take a large amount of courage to do so – to trust, be tenacious and keep telling the truth.

Want to empower yourself to tell the truth and build a high performing team?

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Authentic Leadership – the Three C’s

Authentic Leadership – the Three C’s

What is authentic leadership? That sure is an interesting question isn’t it? I’ve just spent the last 30mins or so reading the definition on Wikipedia. Here’s the crux of the definition…’consensus appears to be growing that authentic leadership includes these distinct qualities:

  • Self-awareness: An ongoing process of reflection and re-examination by the leader of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, and values
  • Relational Transparency: Open sharing by the leader of his or her own thoughts and beliefs, balanced by a minimization of inappropriate emotions
  • Balanced Processing: Solicitation by the leader of opposing viewpoints and fair-minded consideration of those viewpoints
  • Internalized Moral Perspective: A positive ethical foundation adhered to by the leader in his or her relationships and decisions that is resistant to outside pressures

It strikes me that there’s a big paradox to this…if we go some way to defining a set of qualities that means one is an authentic leader, wouldn’t that be inauthentic?

For me authentic is being real, being yourself, showing one’s humanity – whatever that is – and this will be different from one leader to the next. For this is humanity, we are all different and bring our own uniqueness to the table. How can a set of pre-defined behaviours or values be authentic?

Funny things is, as I type this I’m thinking am I being authentic in writing this article? The truth is I read ‘balanced by a minimisation of inappropriate emotions’ and I thought no way!  How would that ever be authentic if one is minimising their emotions? What’s inappropriate, isn’t that subjective (especially to the context)?   I felt incredibly sad as I read this – for my hope is a world of leadership where leaders show more emotion, more humanity – not less.

I say this because my hope for leadership is a greater realness and openness – not where leaders are subscribed to a ‘model’ but where they are self-empowered to be themselves more of the time.  Each of us knows what this is, because only we can know in our hearts when we are being truly authentic.

The biggest challenge I work on with clients and in my own leadership is dropping the pretence, the personas we carry or get into that prevent us from showing who we essential are. When we do this, it’s our pretence that is in a relationship with others, our team or our stakeholders and thus in many cases to maintain the relationship means maintaining the facade. I know for myself there can be a lot of loneliness in that arena.

I say this my friends as I have learnt through many years of transformational development that when I get back to being who I am, more and more of me grows, comes forward, get released, energised, creative. It’s fucking amazing!! How’s that for authenticity?!

Here’s my three C’s then, the qualities I’ve learnt and been developing (a never ending journey):

  • Confidence – it takes esteem in one’s own skin, purpose, self value to develop the confidence to show authenticity, more of the time…especially when others are not. I can role model authenticity by being willing to be myself no matter what and forgive myself when I forget
  • Courage – oh yes, it can take uncopious amounts of courage at times for me to be authentic…show my humanity, especially vulnerability. Every time I do there’s another level to go for…
  • Commitment – it takes a solid, powerful purpose to commit to being more authentic more of the time. Especially when the going gets tough, when old thinking and behaviours are challenged.

I wondered as I’m coming to the end of sharing my thoughts – if authenticity is a bit like art (I remember reading a quote once in one of my coaching theory books)

‘Once we define art, it isn’t art anymore.’

In some ways being authentic seems to me to be how I am at any given moment, with or without a mask, just as I am right now…

 

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Mark, Director of Commercial Development, FE Sector

Mark, Director of Commercial Development, FE Sector

‘I have worked with Nicci to develop my Leadership skills- I have enjoyed our sessions together and the style of developmental faciltation that Nicci developed. The training has enabled me to become a more reflective individual and increase understand my strengthens and weaknesses from all perspectives – mine and others. I strongly recommend Nicci’

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Charlie, Director/Analyst at Panmure Gordon

Charlie, Director/Analyst at Panmure Gordon

‘Superb coach. I work in a technical role and engaged Nicci to help me develop my client skills. Over a 6 month programme, she gently helped/pushed me to identify and address my tics and issues enabling me to build my client skills. She has a great sense of timing – knowing when to and when not to push. She tailored her approach to my needs. I would recommend her to anyone.’

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Sue, Business Owner, The Resource Centre

Sue, Business Owner, The Resource Centre

‘Nicci has made a positive and valuable impact towards helping me to change my way of thinking and is like a breath of fresh air. I have enjoyed talking to Nicci on a wide variety of subjects would recommend her coaching skills on both a personal and professional basis.’

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James, Chartered Financial Planner

James, Chartered Financial Planner

‘I can thoroughly recommend Nicci and the coaching process that she takes you through. At times, especially in the beginning, it can be a difficult process as you have to discuss how you currently behave and face the truth of what you are doing. However, with time and practice, Nicci shows you how you can change your behaviour and its great when you see it working.’

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Paul, Senior Tax Director at Beavis Morgan LLP

Paul, Senior Tax Director at Beavis Morgan LLP

‘I approached Nicci with a view to developing my leadership skills to make the move to partnership. Nicci’s approach to assisting me changing my behaviour and the thought processes that carry me through the working day. This developed my focus on what I wanted to achieve, raised my self esteem and had instant results in my professional relationships.’

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Lindsay Fox, CEO, YCT Charity

Lindsay Fox, CEO, YCT Charity

‘Nicci is non-judgemental, patient, positive and through her coaching she has enabled me to believe in myself and my abilities. Nicci is very effective in that she challenges/questions me, but in a really safe and supportive way.  I know I have grown as a leader due to the small number of sessions I’ve had with Nicci, and I am seeing great results. ‘

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My Leadership Challenges!

My Leadership Challenges!

Well I am on course human and have my own daily challenges.  Some of these are a result of what I am going for and putting myself forward for.  Others are challenges I face sometimes in breaking my own behaviour patterns.  I challenged myself recently to record 1 challenge a week that I will share with you, so here are the latest results!

See all my challenges via my playlist:

 

To find out more about working with me please email me: nicci@awareleadership.co.uk or call me on 07817 246930.  OR you can pop a question or comment into my live online chat box!

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