Effective Leadership

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By Kathleen Brady
[Originally published in NYPRR August 2011]


Lawyers are expected to assume positions of Leadership more often than others. Leadership, in its purest form, is simply the ability to attract and keep followers. Effective leaders have a very strong sense of self; they understand the qualities that make other people want to follow them; and they know how to adjust those qualities when circumstances require. The most effective leaders are those who:

• know their own strengths and limitations;

• create and communicate a positive, realistic vision;

• inspire followers to reach their potentials;

• see beyond their own self-interest and encourage others to do the same;

• anticipate and manage conflicts fairly and objectively;

• exhibit self-confidence;

• instill trust;

• respect and maintain personal and organizational values;

• are fair, reasonable and compassionate;

• behave consistently.

This collection of abilities and attributes, some of them intangible, can be developed throughout the course of a lawyer’s career. They are developed gradually, not in one day, and they must be nurtured and encouraged constantly.

Most people think that a specific position or job title — e.g., the title “Partner” — is the stamp of Leadership. But you need more then a title on the door to attract and keep followers. People follow some leaders only because they must – authority is assumed to come with the title. But people will not always follow a leader because of his title; they will do just what they have to do to meet his demands, and no more. Leadership is not about being the most powerful or smartest person in the room; it has to do with the ability to cast a vision and motivate people. Clearly, the effectiveness of your work will depend on your ability to lead and influence others not by resorting to your title but by instilling in them respect for your abilities and ideas.

Your goal is to become a leader others will follow because they want to, not because they must. When you treat people fairly and demonstrate that you care about them and are committed to making them more successful, they will follow. But you must be careful not to fall into the trap of “Relational Leadership.” That occurs when people follow you only because they like you. A leader who sacrifices the tools of leadership to preserve personal relationships will ultimately have limited effectiveness.

Successful leaders learn how to use their “positions” and their “relationships” to influence associates and staff to focus on and achieve common objectives. These leaders develop and articulate goals, and they hold people (including themselves) accountable for achieving those goals. They are prepared to make difficult decisions and balance the sensitivities of individual workers against the organization’s needs. Employees not only recognize their authority — they accept it and follow them willingly.

Simply stated, leadership is the ability to INFLUENCE people to achieve the best result for the firm or organization and all the people involved.

There are two ways to get people to do what you want: compel them (with your title and power) or persuade them (because they respect and trust you). Persuasion requires an understanding of what makes people tick and what motivates them. The trick is to figure out how to INFLUENCE and MOTIVATE them by the effective use of the carrot AND the stick.

What assumptions do you have about your staff? An assumption is simply a belief that something is true. Your assumptions will function as the filters through which you view the behaviors and responses of your staff. Do you believe you must control and threaten people to get the best work out of them? Do you scoff at the notion of “employee self-actualization?” or, do you believe your team will seek out and accept responsibility when their personal goals are aligned with the organization’s goals?

The primary leadership ASSET is to know yourself; the primary leadership SKILL is to assess and neutralize the assumptions you make about the people around you; and the primary leadership TOOL is to know how to motivate and manage those employees you need. To improve your leadership skills you must focus on three basic areas: SELF AWARENESS, SOCIAL AWARENESS AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.

Leadership Asset: Self Awareness

Think about the leaders you have enjoyed working with, and what leadership styles they displayed. Most people agree that good leaders respect their employees’ time, provide challenging assignments, give detailed instructions and offer meaningful feedback. They demonstrate a commitment to client service, lead by example, and generously share the glory of a job well done. An honest assessment of your leadership qualities will enable you to capitalize on your natural strengths and work to improve those you find more challenging. If you can, complete an assessment of your natural abilities to guide you in recognizing and developing your skills, especially one — like the Highlands Ability Battery — that offers a Leadership Report.

Different situations require different approaches to leadership — otherwise the work will not get done and relationships will suffer. Positional leaders rarely see the need to modify their style to accommodate the needs of others. That’s why their spheres of influence are limited. Relational

Leaders flex their styles to such an extent that oftentimes they are perceived as chameleons. Their lack of consistency limits their influence. The key is to remain essentially consistent with your dominant leadership style but to modify your behavior to incorporate the strengths of the other styles in your leadership persona.

Leadership Skill: Social Awareness

We make assumptions all the time that reflect on our experiences and observations. These assumptions are not inherently right or wrong but they can color our sense of reality. It’s important to be as aware of the assumptions you make when you speak with people you know as when you speak to people you do not know. For example — do you assume that the look on a person’s face, or the tone of his speech, always represents the same thinking — good or bad? Do you assume people with specific characteristics (physical or otherwise) will always behave in the same way? If a junior associate produces a mediocre brief for you, do you assume that the work of all junior associates will be mediocre too? Do you expect that all associates with a particular background (e.g., a J.D. from an Ivy League law school) will behave in the same way? If your last secretary was hostile, do you assume all secretaries are hostile?

Not all of these assumptions need to be discarded. Some of them can serve a useful purpose if you use them as hypotheses to be tested and challenged before you accept them as filters through which you view every problem. Your goal is to acknowledge your assumptions, but then to question whether they are helpful in the specific instance.

Leadership Tool: Situational Awareness

Not all managers are leaders but every leader is a manager. It’s critical to leadership to develop the management skills of delegation and feedback. Differences in employee abilities, skills and style are inevitable, but they must be managed to meet workplace demands. Leaders who learn to recognize these differences and flex their leadership styles to match the differences, will be more successful at managing and motivating their employees to achieve their objectives. The goal is not simply to make everyone happy, but to understand how to capture individual talents to get the best out of each contributor.

Whether you want to discover and understand your own leadership style or the abilities of the lawyers and others who work with you, the Highlands Company is in a position to assist you with its Leadership Report and its new Lawyers’ Report. For more information, visit

Kathleen Brady is founder of Brady & Associates Career Planners LLC, a company dedicated to career development training and counseling, and of Kanarek & Brady, LLC, a career transition consulting firm specializing in the legal community. She is a certified Affiliate of the Highlands Company and has administered the Highlands Ability Battery at major law firms and law schools.

DISCLAIMER: This article provides general coverage of its subject area and is presented to the reader for informational purposes only with the understanding that the laws governing legal ethics and professional responsibility are always changing. The information in this article is not a substitute for legal advice and may not be suitable in a particular situation. Consult your attorney for legal advice. New York Legal Ethics Reporter provides this article with the understanding that neither New York Legal Ethics Reporter LLC, nor Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, nor Hofstra University, nor their representatives, nor any of the authors are engaged herein in rendering legal advice. New York Legal Ethics Reporter LLC, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, Hofstra University, their representatives, and the authors shall not be liable for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy, or omission.


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