There is nothing more rewarding as a leader in a business environment than helping a business or a team reach its goals. This relies solely on the people in the organization and its leadership. In our work with law firms, the one issue mentioned most often is leadership. Whether it’s poor leaders, leaders with no vision, leaders who micro-manage or leaders who are downright dysfunctional, somewhere in the firm there is an opportunity to help a leader or a group of leaders to become more effective.
Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz once wrote, “Being a leader is easy when things are going well.” His book, Leadership without Easy Answers, is a great read and not just consultant speak. He writes, “Leadership is the process of adaptive work, elevating followers by discussing and aligning value systems to face reality. Leadership is putting the finger on the real challenges that threaten our survival and changing the mindset of the followers.”
In another book titled The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, he advises, “When change requires you to challenge people’s familiar reality, it can be difficult, dangerous work. Whatever the context â€” whether in the private or the public sector — many will feel threatened as you push through major changes. But as a leader, you need to find a way to make it work.”
Are You a Good Leader?
Taking a look at oneself in the mirror and being honest about the type of leader you are (compared with the type of leader you aspire to be) is an important part of the journey toward becoming a good and effective leader. How do you know when you have reached a level of effectiveness? Frankly, the best mirror available for this is a leadership (aka a “360″) assessment. We are certified in, and prefer the tools from, Human Synergistics, a global company specializing in organizational effectiveness. The assessments provide a substantive summary of your leadership style that will cause one to dig deep into self-reflection and see yourself as others experience you. Further, these assessments provide a roadmap that allows you to see the behaviors your leadership style drives in others. And, you will gain the ability to compare your assessment of self in contrast with the current leadership style people are experiencing from you. Of course there are other tools for a self-assessment, and it’s important to use one of these tools to help you become a stronger leader.
Work Hard at Leadership
Any time want to better yourself, as a leader, consider where you are in your current phase of leadership development, and where you want to be next. Work hard at leadership. Read books — Heifetz is one of the best authors about this topic and writes in a thought-provoking manner. Take assessments — Human Synergistics offers some of the best assessments in this area and delivers thought-provoking, actionable reports.
Why focus on your leadership at all? Most of us become leaders with no or little training. Few of us have HR backgrounds or training in human behavior that could help us navigate various personalities and behaviors and their impact on the organization overall. And last, we often underestimate the level of communicating we do with our firms and our teams. As leaders, we need to communicate, empower, and provide feedback. One of the criticisms of many leaders in law firms is, in fact, lack of communication, lack of clarity about goals, lack of clarity on advancement metrics. The assessment you choose will show you how well you do in these areas.
Human Synergistics uses a framework for much of its work with development and culture called The Circumplex. On this, you will see those styles that describe various behaviors. Those behaviors, in turn, cause others to act in response. Educating oneself about how one’s own leadership style may impact others’ behaviors is well worth the time and money.
To gain a better understanding of the styles, I have listed below a brief overview of each. Think about your style and which behaviors you are seeing with your team members. Chances are some of your leadership characteristics are driving these behaviors â€” good and bad. Human Synergistics describes the assessment thusly: “The assessment results allow you to compare your own impressions of your leadership strategies to your strategies as described by others” Here are some brief snippets of all:
The Constructive Styles Indicate the extent to which you as a leader motivate and encourage others to …
- Set challenging but realistic goals;
- Develop themselves;
- Be supportive of people;
- Treat people as members of the team;
- Respect diverse backgrounds and viewpoints;
- Show trust and confidence in their peers and associates;
- Actively support others in their career development and growth; and
- Discuss decisions with those who will be affected by them.
The specific styles within Constructive are: Achievement; Self-Actualizing; Humanistic-Encouraging; and Affiliative.
The Passive/Defensive Styles indicate the extent to which you as a leader motivate and require others to …
- Gain the full agreement of those around them;
- Do only what they are told;
- Clear all decisions with superiors;
- Please those in positions of authority;
- Lead others to feel insecure and uneasy about interpersonal relations within the organization; and
- Avoid any possibility of being blamed for a mistake.
The specific styles within Passive/Defensive are: Approval; Conventional; Dependent; and Avoidance.
The Aggressive/Defensive Styles indicate the extent to which you as a leader motivate and drive others to …
- Point out mistakes;
- Act forceful and aggressive;
- Operate in a “win-lose” framework;
- Set unrealistically high goals;
- Play “politics” to gain influence;
- Protect your power base, maintain your authority;
- Distance yourself from peers who are experiencing problems;
- Feel apprehensive and insecure about their position and authority;
- Dismiss good ideas by pointing out flaws; and
- Stay on top of every detail and work long hours to attain narrowly defined objectives.
The specific styles are: Oppositional; Power; Competitive; and Perfectionistic.
The research and work in this area of leadership is compelling. The data is extremely powerful and backed by thousands of research data points collected from many leaders across organizations. All to help us to become better leaders.
***** Silvia Coulter is a Principal with LawVisionGroup and may be reached at lawvisiongroup.com or 978-526-8316. These descriptions are the copyright of Human Synergistics. For more information about the tools Silvia is describing, visit www.humansynergistics.com.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.