This line is taken from the heading to Chapter 7 of Jack Bogle’s brilliant book, Enough, True Measures of Money, Business and Life.
It is a point that very few in legal practice are ever brave enough to voice.
In case there was any confusion concerning the difference between the two, this is how Warren Bennis describes things (this quote is taken from p.159 of Enough but I think can also be found in his book Leaders):
“There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”
The point is that law firms have an abundance of those who are tasked with the former but very few or not enough with the latter. It may be conjecture but perhaps lawyers don’t make for the best leaders given how opinionated they are. I am not ignoring the plethora of Members of Parliament who switched from law to politics but I am not sure how many people would be prepared to say that politicians are great leaders? Very few I would imagine.
What concerns me though is that not enough or indeed any attention is placed on ensuring that the future leaders or those with latent potential are developed and allowed to hone their skills in a way that allows them the opportunity to succeed?
Far too often the system is set up for them to fail by dint of the fact that they do not have the requisite experience.
What they do possess (normally) is the ability to run a successful practice area, but how many of them have grown and developed a large group of people as opposed to developing a practice area? We all know that not every team that makes money is the most of anything – my test for true leadership.
I have witnessed many profitable practice areas, but I would not describe those in control as leaders but rather as competent managers.
Some people will describe their role as motivating their people. In my view good people do not need motivating if they are working in an environment that encourages them to reach their full potential, allows them to fail without fear of the consequences, pushes them safely to take on more responsibility and where everyone looks out for each other. This is not an exhaustive list but if I were pushed to identify one characteristic of good leaders, I would say it is great communication. But more than that a caring attitude. A way of understanding you beyond the usual superficial stuff. In short THEY CARED.
It would be my wish that every firm established a school of excellence to make sure that by the time every person was asked to step up to the plate they were as near ready as they could be. Even if this sounds fanciful then every person should have the benefit of attending or being subject to some internal or external training to identify their strengths and weaknesses. A formal process needs to be engendered and not the usual hushed whispers where one partners’ view is taken as gospel. I am always amazed about those who sit in judgment about more junior members of the firm. They need to look inwards more often before they start casting too many aspersions in one direction or another.
Even those leaders in practice need to understand that once they have gained the lofty height of whatever position it is, they still need to work on their craft. There is no embarrassment in admitting your mistakes. In fact, if you are aiming for perfection all the time – or at least that is how you talk – then it is unlikely you will earn the same degree of trust as someone who is prepared to admit that they are human.
I recall a previous blog post where I mentioned the upwards appraisal. Call it what you like but those that are privileged to lead should be subject to some sort of team MOT every year. They can’t afford to rest on their laurels and even if the comments have to be anonymised, they need to properly understand the feedback of their team.
Next time you come across a great leader, make a note of their characteristics. Build a portfolio. And go to work on your career. Even if you have lost the will to push on for the top (I don’t just mean the Managing Partner’s role) that is not to say that you cannot be a better person by adopting the character traits of those that you admire or respect.
The profession needs more leaders right now. Those that can see far enough ahead to inspire everyone to follow. Yes they might fail but it is far better to have tried and failed that not to have tried at all.
~ JS ~