The Leadership Conundrum, 0118 COBJ, Vol. 47, No. 1 Pg. 14

Position:Vol. 47, 1 [Page 14]

47 Colo.Law. 14

The Leadership Conundrum

Vol. 47, No. 1 [Page 14]

The Colorado Lawyer

January, 2018



Simon Sines made a profound statement about business culture and leadership during his 2014 Ted Talk: “In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.”1 While that might not paint a perfectly accurate picture of law firm culture, it strikes a nerve.

Consider how you reward leaders in your firm. Many leaders are rewarded based on the amount they can bill or on the value of the clients they originate. Others are rewarded for the success of their team or practice group. Unfortunately, leaders are too often put in the position of having to choose between team success and personal success. We task our leaders with the impossible: Create a successful team. Build trust within that team. Be a great communicator. Bill 2,100 hours a year and make enough rain to ensure that all team members meet their annual billable requirement.

Who do your leaders feed first? If there is billable work to be had, do they pass it to their team so they can be successful, or do they keep it for themselves so they can enjoy the personal success? The answer to that question will help you determine whether you have genuine leaders in your organization.

What Makes a Genuine Leader?

Leadership is a tricky thing. Firms routinely base leadership decisions not on leadership skills, but on tenure, experience, and the appearance of authority. The problem with this approach is that people are not effective leaders because they are partners, because they “bought in,” or because they are a subject matter expert in a particular practice area. Nor are they suited for leadership simply because they are successful rainmakers, because “clients love them,” or because they are well-spoken or published. Similarly, graduating first in one’s class or being on the law review doesn’t matter when it comes to leadership.

Instead, leaders must be able to create teams of people who trust...

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