Enhance Your Leadership Role

By Lawyer and Executive Business Coach, Irene Leonard

Your role as legal administrator in your firm is critical for its growth and cohesion. You are a resource that the lawyers and staff turn to for answers and solutions. Increase your effectiveness as this resource uby changing your role from manager to leader.

As a leader you will empower the people you work with to make their own choices that reflect the firm's vision. As a leader you have a responsibility to develop and enhance the firm's member's job performance and have them take responsibility for their actions. You'll do this by nurturing and encouraging your people to be creative and willing to do what it takes to get the job done. As a leader you'll bring out the best in your people including developing their leadership skills.

Enlightened leaders know they do not have all the answers. Rather they know that very often the person with the problem is more than capable of coming up with a solution, especially with help. Coach the answers out of them. People carry out those actions they themselves determine to be a good idea, and are reluctant to carry out actions they are told to do.

When individuals within the firm come to you to discuss their concerns you will be able to effectively help them by using the following leadership skills.

1. Clear Communication

Leaders know that their people must be clear about what is expected from them. This means being extremely explicit when communicating with them. This includes setting clear, measurable, specific, realistic goals with your staff. It also means getting clarity from the owners or lawyers when they want performance standards meet. Be honest and forthright in your discussions with everyone inside and outside the firm. Work to improve the overall communication skills within the firm.

Your role is to provide clear direction. Telling a staff member "that their performance needs to improve" – is not specific. Come up with what the improved performance would actually look like. For example you want them to return all calls to clients before lunch and before the end of the day.

2. Listening

Probably the most important function for you to do as leader is to really listen. This means suspending your judgment when being spoken to. Being curious and patient. Pause and think about what was said before you answer. Consider posing a question rather than an answer in response. Use the question to deepen the discussion. As a good listener you will command respect and loyalty.

3. Use Powerful Questions

Learn to ask powerful questions that deepen the individual's awareness of the problem. Powerful questions are questions that are thought provoking. They are open-ended and not leading questions. Use "what" or "how" rather than "why". The best questions cause the individual to stop and think before responding. Don't help by giving them the answer you think appropriate. Wait to hear what they finally come up with. The originality of their answer may surprise you. When asking questions keep your own opinion out of the way. Look for ways to make the person right and completely support their position.

Resist telling them what to do or making suggestions. An example of a powerful thought provoking question is: "What do you think the solution is?"

4. Intuition

Trust your intuition. Leaders willing to include their intuitive response in their decision making have a very powerful resource available to help them find answers.

5. Suspend your Judgement

Don't you try to fix everything. Don't always tell your staff what they should do. Find out from them what they think they should do to solve a problem. Create awareness for both the individual and yourself. Keep your mind open to the possibilities of what the employee knows about the situation and the various solutions. Suspending your judgement will enable you to treat your staff with respect and appreciation.

6. Brainstorming

When someone is stuck, meaning they can not see a way out of a situation – brainstorm with them. Come up with many different ways to look at the problem. Be creative and consider different options, ideas, training, strategies and courses of action. Make the person you are working with come up with the majority of the options. Include options that seem impossible or outrageous. When an individual is stuck in one perspective or belief the act of merely coming up with many options helps to create a shift in the stuck individual's thought process.

Here is an example of brainstorming when a firm member is stuck. First it is necessary that they recognize they are feeling stuck. S. E. is stuck in the perspective that she "Can't find time to return her calls." You begin working with her by helping her see that she is stuck and then ask her: "What is another way you could look at that?" Then give her an example of another perspective. Then ask her for "Another one?"

Here are examples of other perspectives to help her find the time:

  1. Come in to the office earlier to get work done before returning calls.
  2. Leave the office later after returning the calls.
  3. Stop doing work that does not need to be done.
  4. Give some of your work to others.
  5. Block out a time in the day for the calls and be strict sticking to it.
  6. Reduce the time spent actually making the calls.
  7. Have someone else return the calls.
  8. Say no to something else.

Then ask S. E. "What option or options are you willing to consider?" Seek a commitment from S. E. to use a new option in finding the time to return her calls. Follow up with S. E. to see if that option works or whether another option needs to be considered.

The idea is to help her take action on a plan based on a new perspective.

7. Maintain the Firm's Vision

A key role as leader is for you to maintain the firm's vision with all your decisions. This vision needs to be based on common values that are shared by you, the owners, and the staff. What are your firm's values? Do they include loyalty, respect, trust, creativity, fairness, honesty, and integrity?

8. Acknowledge Everyone

As leader you need to hold your people as capable and resourceful and make them aware of your faith in them. Acknowledge the people you work with for their positive qualities. You will increase their confidence by supporting them in this way. Acknowledgment is a very powerful means to help individuals grow into their roles within the firm. Always be honest and sincere when acknowledging someone.

9. Protect your People

Leaders are loyal to their associates and look after them. Stand up for what is right for you and your people. Although it is sometimes difficult to protect your people it is important and critical that they know they can trust and rely upon you if things get tough.

10. Lead by Example

Leaders lead by example. Increase your self-awareness of when you might not be "walking your talk". Always act the way you want the staff and the lawyers to act with clients and with each other.

11. Keep Learning

Look at mistakes as a way to learn. Leaders embrace failure because it means changes are being made within the organization. Leaders are always open to new ideas and ways of doing things as well as looking for ways to improve.

12. Develop Your People

Provide the opportunity for your staff to grow and learn. Challenge them. This alsomeans giving them the opportunities to take further training. Work with your staff to improve their confidence and over come any fear they may have of moving to the next level in their performance development.

As a leader use of these skills will help you influence others. Use your influence to guide and direct the members of your firm to uphold the common values and vision. This means influencing the lawyers, owners, staff, and others to be who they need to be and to do the right things. Use your leadership to keep the firm on course.

After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers business coaching services as a Certified Professional and Personal Coach. She can be reached at (425) 672 4321.

Published in "Soundings" August 1999. Soundings is the bi-monthly magazine of the Puget Sound chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators.