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Leading in a Multi-generational Workplace

It is conceivable today that one workplace could comprise five different generations of employees:

·       Silent Generation – Born before 1946

·       Baby Boomers – Born between 1946 – 1964

·       Generation X – Born between 1965 – 1980

·       Millennials (Gen Y) – Born between 1981 – 1998

·       Generation Z – Born after 1998[1]

Employing differing generations often means managing a wide variety of life experiences and workplace expectations. And while a diversity of age and experience is certainly a positive thing, it can be challenging to learn how to lead and motivate such a broad range of employees.

 Of course, labelling an entire generation of people with an all-encompassing array of shared characteristics is not useful. Even among members of the same generation, life experiences vary greatly. But acknowledging the cultural moments that shape entire generations – regardless of individual upbringing – will help inform, to a degree, the manner in which leaders go about managing a cross-generational workforce.[2]

 For example: 

·      The Silent Generation (born pre-1946) grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. So many members are now conservative and traditional in comparison to younger groups.

·      Boomers (born 1946-1964) witnessed the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King and were spurred to react to those events by fighting and speaking out.

·      Generation X (born 1965-1976) lived through events like Watergate and Operation Desert Storm. They were also the first generation for whom divorce became a common occurrence. Many reacted by becoming fiercely self-reliant and dubious of traditional values. 

·      Millennials, or Gen Y, (born 1977-1995) grew up with the advent of social media and experienced 9/11 as children or young adults. So members of Gen Y are broadly connected to a global community that can be legitimately terrifying.

·      Generation Z are today’s teens and young adults. Social media, homeland security, and exponentially greater awareness of racial, gender, and LGBTQ injustices (sometimes referred to as being “woke”) drive them to be continuously connected and to make a difference.

 All of the above cultural touchstones affect how members of each generation experience their workplaces and what their expectations are as they enter and move through the work force. Below are just a few of the issues that leaders of multi-generational workforces face, and how to deal with them.

 “Working to Live” v. “Living to Work.” Older and younger generations view their relationships with a company in drastically different ways. While older Gen Xers and Boomers tend to view their jobs more traditionally – i.e., stay with one company, work hard, sacrifice, get promoted – younger Gen Yers and Gen Zers feel they deserve a balance and are willing to move from job to job on a cross-company trajectory if necessary.

 By providing avenues for cross-training, and thus giving younger employees a chance to build transferable skills and older workers a chance to add value via their experience, leaders can appeal to a range of generations.

 Feedback vs. Fierce Independence

Of course, trusting an employee to do their job without being micro-managed is the most productive way to lead a team. So a certain level of independence is expected and, frankly, appreciated by employees. But older generations can view constant feedback as bordering on micro-managing, while younger generations appreciate guidance.

 Maintaining some flexibility here can satisfy a range of expectations. Just as a manager would adapt to different personalities on their team, simply being aware of this generational difference and accommodating it where feasible can help alleviate a great deal of frustration.

 Communication

While younger generations are more comfortable with e-mails and texting on a regular basis, older generations may prefer in-person meetings and phone calls. Certainly there are times when each type of communication is preferable, and the size of a workforce and the physical locations of various employees can dictate which communication form works best in a given situation.

 But no matter the generation, leaders need to communicate with their employees in a manner that engages them. This may mean acknowledging employee preferences and incorporating different communication channels at different times – using digital communication when necessary and in-person calls or meetings when appropriate.

 There is no way to mold generations of employees into one homogenous group. And a good leader would not want to. But by maintaining an awareness of the cultural and experiential differences among generations, leaders can adapt to their employees’ needs in a manner that motivates employees and makes them feel valued – regardless of the year in which they were born.

[1] Kardon, Brian. 3 Tips on Managing a Multigenerational Workforce (April 16, 2019) HR Technologist. Retrieved at:

https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/culture/3-tips-on-managing-a-multigenerational-workforce/

[2] Moments That Shape a Generation, The Center for Generational Kinetics. Retrieved at: https://genhq.com/moments-shape-generation/

The True Grit of a Summer Associate

THE TRUE GRIT OF A SUMMER ASSOCIATE

By: Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.

 

Every year, high performing law students compete for coveted Summer Associate positions at high caliber Am Law 100 firms in major cities around the country. Since the Great Recession of 2009, many major law firms have scaled back their summer associate programs.  In some cases, firms have eliminated the programs entirely and are focusing on lateral recruiting.  Law students that are fortunate enough to be selected for one of these prized summer associate positions have the advantage of being exposed to an elite level of talent in the legal industry. They work and learn alongside legal leaders in litigation, M&A and securities, capital markets, real estate, finance, technology and intellectual property.  However, earning a summer associate position does not guarantee a full time associate a position upon graduation from law school. 

 Now, more than ever, client demands and economic disruptions have impacted the legal industry. Law firms are focusing on becoming more efficient, increasing revenue, controlling costs and hiring highly skilled, resilient attorneys who demonstrate true grit and perseverance.  Law firms that are ahead of the curve are training attorneys, managers and staff to manage their time more effectively and work collaboratively in high functioning and productive environments.  Law firms want summer associates who adapt and perform at a high level, with selective supervision.  Meaning, when a summer associate is given an assignment by a partner or senior associate, the summer associate is expected to be understanding of the task, assert confidence, and take every measure to submit high quality work. 

 In an industry that is driven by the billable hour, partners and associates are extremely mindful of their time. They demand highly thought out and pre-edited drafts of briefs, memorandums, and agreements.  If a senior lawyer receives an inferior draft of a document, it will keep them from spending time on their higher-level tasks.

 To create a more effective and efficient environment, summer associates should collaborate with other summer associates or junior attorneys to review and revise documents before submitting it for review by a senior attorney.  Summer associates need to learn how to perform in a stressful and pressured environment, as high-profile law firms in large metropolises are seeking high potential associates to fill their staffing needs.

 By demonstrating true grit and resilience, a summer associate will distinguish him or herself above the rest.  A summer associate must have the ability to translate criticism into productive conversations, to work long hours, and to maintain a positive outlook, as these are the key traits of an associate that demonstrates grit.

 A summer associate possessing grit and resilience, will reflect on negative feedback and assess where improvements need to be made. They will consult with other summer associates and attorneys to discuss how to raise the quality of their work.  When a senior attorney does not see a steady progression in productivity and talent, they will often avoid that summer associate, and refrain from assigning new tasks.  Senior attorneys will seek out an associate that has demonstrated grit and resilience, rather than one that lacks those skills.

 Law firms that have long established summer associate programs will typically match a summer associate with a mid-level or senior associate, as well as a partner for mentorship and support.  Many firms provide training by utilizing external executive coaches and workshop facilitators to develop and build upon desired skill sets.  Summer associates should take advantage of these programs, as they can be vital in developing their career.

 For some, “grit” has a harsh or negative connotation.  However, “grit” can also include the practice of soft skills such as self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, and humility.  Soft skills, combined with grit and resilience, position a summer associate to work more effectively, both independently, and within a collaborative team.  A summer associate who knows how to channel their soft skills can identify conflict and move to resolve it.  If a summer associate lacks soft skills, chances are they will exhibit arrogance, selfishness, jealousy and will be poor listeners who resist collaboration. They will also not last through the summer. 

 True grit, resilience and soft skills are as distinguishing of characteristics as being in the top 10% of your class and on law review.  Being smart is not enough to excel as an associate and rise to leadership in the modern Big Law environment.  Augmenting intellectual IQ with emotional IQ helps a summer associate stand out, exhibit an agile mindset, and position themselves to be successful high performers.  These skills become more important as law firms utilize artificial intelligence and smart machines to increase their position in the industry.  As technology advances, fewer attorneys are needed to resolve problems and provide solutions.  The attorneys that will be most in demand are those that not only excelled academically, but those who also personify true grit and resilience.  

Information About the Authors:

 Natalie Loeb is the Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach.  She can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 Gordon Loeb is the President of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership.  He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com, 866-987- 4111.

Does a Lawyer’s High IQ Compensate for a Low EQ?

Emotional quotient (EQ), also known as emotional intelligence (EI), is defined as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”[1] This capacity is crucial to many leadership competencies, not the least of which is influence, something “essential to leadership as a social skill in order to make progress and get things done through – and with – others.”[2]

 “You can’t order people to do what you want, you must persuade or inspire them to put forth their best efforts toward the clear objective you have defined.” – Daniel Goleman[3]

 Most of us have heard the term EQ used in general discussions about work interactions, and perhaps you’ve even experienced the negative personal impact of a low EQ in coworkers – specifically, those who manage others. In fact, low EQ in senior management can result in high turnover, an antagonistic work atmosphere, and low morale. In addition to making for a miserable work environment, low EQ in senior management can give rise to high attrition, which, at a replacement recruiting cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per lawyer, is no small problem.[4]

 And, as if that’s not enough, you might be surprised to know that insurers have begun to suspect that low EQ on the part of lawyers results in higher risk of malpractice claims, just as it’s been shown to do with doctors.[5]

But lawyers are smart, right? One would think their high IQs would allow them to recognize this problem easily and nip it in the bud!

Not necessarily. Studies have shown that while attorneys do score high in intelligence, they generally score below average in emotional intelligence.[6] It’s a perception that is, frustratingly, borne out frequently in fictional portrayals of the legal culture. For every “Atticus Finch” there are a dozen “Phillip Stuckeys” (Jason Alexander in Pretty Woman) or “Thomas Hagens” (Robert Duvall in The Godfather films).

So we know there is a problem. However, can you really improve your or anyone else’s EQ? As it turns out, you can.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one’s EQ capacity is “firm”, but not necessarily “rigid.” [7] By receiving coaching on interpersonal skills and how to manage stress levels, attorneys can indeed increase their EQs. In fact, studies suggest that, “with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.” [8]

 As a bonus, it seems that EQ training for the workplace inescapably benefits the trainee’s personal life as well.

 So, it can be done! But how?

 Psychologists have broken down the concept of EQ into four separate skill sets. By consistently working on those skills, you and your colleagues can slowly but surely up your EQs.

  • Self-Awareness – i.e., the ability to grasp and understand your own emotional state. This requires you to acknowledge your triggers and realize when you are feeling angry or stressed. It sounds easy, but how often have you reacted to something in a way that was a tad over the top because you were stressed out about something else entirely? When you feel “off,” take a second and ask yourself why.

  • Self-Management – i.e., the ability to control your emotions. Once you’ve recognized your emotional state for what it is, you need to be able to manage it before it controls you. This is not complicated, but it can be challenging to have this kind of willpower. The old mantra “just take a deep breath” comes in handy here. If you can step back from yourself for even a second, you can gain perspective and more effectively manage your own emotions.

Combining the two skills above allows you to better manage stress by recognizing it for what it is. Once you have mastered that, you can separate your emotions from a problematic situation and calmly communicate possible solutions – whether to a fellow colleague or a client.

  • Empathy – i.e., the ability to identify emotions and reactions in others, regardless of how you feel. If you think you have trouble with this, focus on listening, observing, and asking questions. Look up from whatever document you are reviewing or case law you are trying to explain and zero in for a moment on the colleague or client with whom you are dealing. It’s easier than it seems and is often simply a matter of shifting focus for a short period. It’s highly important to be “present” when engaging with a colleague.

  • Ability to Build Relationships. This skill is essentially a combination of the previous three. Once you understand your own emotions and how to manage them and are aware of what’s going on with your colleague or client, you’ll be able to build a rapport with them that will allow them to trust you and your judgment. Be the person you would feel comfortable taking advice from.

Again, building your EQ is not complicated, but it does take persistence and dedication. Try to hone the above skills each day, and before you know it you will be a better leader and lawyer – not to mention friend, partner, and family member – for it.

[1] Emotional intelligence (noun). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/emotional_intelligence

[2] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.keystepmedia.com/influence-emotional-intelligence/

[3] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Quoting Influence: A Primer. Retrieved from https://www.keystepmedia.com/influence-emotional-intelligence/

[4] Juetten, Mary (2017, August 14) Attorney Well-Being: Start with Emotional Intelligence, Law Practice Today. Retrieved from https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/attorney-well-being-emotional-intelligence/

[5] Muir, Rhonda (2015, June 13) The Psychology of Malpractice, Law People. Retrieved from https://www.lawpeopleblog.com/2015/06/the-psychology-of-malpractice/

[6] (2017, September 26) How emotional intelligence makes you a better lawyer, YourABA. Retrieved from

https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2017/october-2017/how-successful-lawyers-use-emotional-intelligence-to-their-advan/

[7] Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2013, May 29) Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em

[8] Ibid.

Building a Legacy

Last year I was offered the opportunity to be the keynote presenter at New York City’s Association of Legal Administrators’ (ALA) annual symposium, whose theme was Embracing Change: Building Stronger Leaders for Tomorrow. 

Preparing for the presentation, I reflected on some major milestones in my life and what I had to do to embrace each one successfully as I traveled along my leadership journey. I then had the privilege of sharing the following six actions with a large group of ALA members and sponsors. We started with a few laughs, shared a few tears and, most importantly, took the time to commit to one action we could each actively do on that day to “embrace change and become a stronger leader.” 

As I transitioned from college to work, I had to LEARN as much as I could. 

As I honed my skills in my career, I had to LEAN IN and DEEPEN my expertise. 

Later in my career, I had to lift my head and LOOK AROUND to see what I was missing and what trends were on the horizon. 

When my first child was born, I had to LOOK INSIDE and clarify my personal values so I could integrate my professional and personal lives in ways that would satisfy me. 

As I transitioned into a business owner, I had to learn how to coach and LIFT UP others so both they and we could be as successful and satisfied as possible. 


My last transition is still happening as I think about the LEGACY I want to leave. This frames my thinking and my approach to how we lead our business. The loss of my beloved mother and the legacy she left reminds me every day of the power of relationships and the lasting impact we have on others—both professionally and personally—when we think not only of the work we do together but how we care about each other and make each other feel along the way. 

I am grateful every day for how the content from The Leadership Challenge® helps me to be the leader of my own life. Two years before my mother died, for example, I gave serious thought to our relationship. I re-visited my values and decided to prioritize time with my mother. I live a busy life, travel frequently but am home on weekends. So, I asked my mother if we could have breakfast together every Sunday. She happily agreed and we set a goal to try every diner and breakfast place in mid- and southern-New Jersey. We loved our Sunday breakfasts together, learning more and more about each other. Often our morning breakfasts would turn into afternoon shopping and movies. On March 8th, 2017 while grabbing my luggage from a carousel at Newark airport, I got a call from my brother. My mother had suffered a brain aneurism. She never woke up and was removed from life support a week later. What I know for sure, is that I will never regret and instead am extremely grateful for our Sunday morning breakfasts together. 

As I strive to live my values, I am confident I am Modeling the Way as I want the world to see me. Each day as I think about my legacy, both professionally and personally, I become a bit clearer on the actions I can take every day to get there. 

Natalie Loeb is founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership, a certified women-owned business and a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge®. With over 25 years of experience in executive coaching and known as an innovative business leader and strategic partner to her clients, Natalie leads her firm in the creation and realization of its vision: to help build high-trust cultures that inspire employees to change, collaborate, grow, and perform at their best—creating a positive impact on themselves, those around them, and their organizations and communities. She can be reached at natalie@loebleadership.com.

The Role of the Legal Secretary

It has always been the case that by delegating certain tasks to a legal secretary, lawyers can free up valuable time for their clients and themselves. Furthermore, ensuring that tasks are handled by the lowest-cost resource at a firm saves lawyers time and clients money.  

However, the role of the legal secretary has changed substantially over the past two decades, predominantly due to the advent of the personal computer. Younger lawyers in particular are much more likely to type their own correspondence and legal documents than those of earlier generations, and digital files have in many instances made paper document management obsolete.  

 But, how much of a lawyer’s perceived “self-sufficiency” is actually a recipe for inefficiency? It’s worth considering. In fact, with a bit of training – mostly for lawyers – you may find that legal secretaries are as vital as ever in keeping you responsive to clients and as efficient as possible, regardless of your office size or practice area.  

 Delegating for Efficiency 

 It will come as no surprise that study after study has found that distractions are the enemy of workplace productivity. What if you could train yourself to delegate a variety of essentially administrative disruptions to someone you trust? You might be surprised at how much more legal work you accomplish in a day – not to mention how much earlier you can leave the office – when you’re not dealing with all the little things that just seem so easy to do yourself. 

 Below are some areas in which delegating to a good legal secretary can be invaluable: 

  • Certain Client Calls and E-mails. We’ve all been the client on the end of a frustrating customer service call or e-chat – unable to get a non-scripted human to help us. Legal secretaries can interact personally with clients to schedule meetings, answer basic questions about process, timing or billing, and even obtain client information. Having a trusted colleague able to answer the phone and respond quickly to e-mails will make clients feel valued and allow you to focus your energy on actual legal work for those clients. 

  • Marketing. If you’ve ever found yourself wasting precious hours trying to format a PowerPoint presentation for a speaking engagement, navigate your firm’s Facebook page, or print labels for a mailing, you know what a distraction marketing can be. Everything from marketing material preparation to social media engagement to your client holiday cards can be handled by your legal secretary. 

  • Mail and Package Receipt/Delivery. If you open your mail over your recycling bin because most of it ends up there, you know there must be a more efficient use of your time. Your legal secretary can prioritize incoming mail and packages for you, as well as prepare your outgoing mail and arrange any required messenger deliveries. 

  • Finance and Expenses. Invoicing and billing can take an extraordinary amount of time each month, as can organizing receipts for taxes and/or reimbursement. General billing can be handled by your legal secretary, as can documenting your client, CLE, and other expenses. 

  • Filing and Organizing. So much of the paperwork we handle now is digital, but that doesn’t mean it requires less organization. An overwhelming number of document drafts can be accumulated by sometimes even the smallest transaction or case. Plus, now that so much communication is done via e-mail instead of by phone, maintaining organized and easily accessible document and e-mail filing systems is crucial to an efficient practice. 

  • Research. Any legal secretary should be able to perform basic research on press coverage of a new law, details about a new client, or information on an opposing counsel for you. And, depending upon the size of your office and type of practice, your legal secretary might even be able to check legal citations via Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis, saving you from scrolling through data. 

Above are just a few examples of the types of things legal secretaries should be handling to help keep your office running smoothly. With today’s fast-paced digital world, lawyers are expected to respond to all variety of communication thoroughly and often at lightning speed. The days of “snail mail” and having the luxury of time to review documents and formulate strategies is long gone. A good legal secretary will allow you to recapture some of that precious time, benefitting you and your clients. 

Rise to Inclusion: Try Curiosity instead of Conflict

“What is right, can never be impossible!”
-Captain Sir John Lindsay, in the film
Belle

Almost ten years ago I had the privilege to present at a NALP conference. I was one of four coaches speaking to a group of law firm professionals about the use of executive coaching in law firms. Attendees at the presentation were offered a 30-minute on-the-spot coaching session to get a sampling of how coaching works. As attendees entered the conference room set aside for the coaching, they could choose any available coach to engage in a session.

When Tracey West, the Associate Dean of External Relations, Diversity & Inclusion at Boston College Law School approached the conference room, she made a bee-line straight to me. She said, “I’d like you to be my coach. Is that okay?” I welcomed Tracey and we went to find a quiet place to sit and talk. Before we started the coaching session, Tracey told me, “I really enjoyed your section of the presentation, and I knew right away I wanted to work with you. Look. I even wrote in my notes, “the engaging black coach.” I smiled, looked at her notes, felt very humbled as Tracey described me as “engaging”, and then looked at Tracey and said, “You think I’m black?” And she nodded and smiled while saying “Yes.” I immediately asked Tracey, “Are you?” Tracey said “of course.” And I said, “Wow, I thought you were white...and by the way, I’m not black, I’m white.” We both roared with laughter at how wrong we both were, however, it led to a great conversation and an even better professional and personal relationship.

So other than laugh, what did we do next? We did what lots of mothers do and showed each other pictures of our kids and commented on their color too. My white son looked darker than her black children. We laughed. And then I showed her my daughter with fair skin, blond hair and green eyes and we laughed again about the unpredictability of genes. Our curiosity about each other, our cultures, backgrounds and life experiences provided the stage for candid, respectful and open communication. Since we approached each other with curiosity, a safe space for genuine and candid conversation developed. I asked Tracey about being a black woman in America today and Tracey inquired about my ethnic and religious background as an Ashkenazi Jew.

Commonalities were easy to find: as professionals, mothers, spouses and proud Americans.  Likewise, we were both interested in learning and development, so there was plenty to talk about. Being curious about our differences with a healthy respect for each other has given us both many teachable moments, particularly when societal pressures may threaten to inhibit individual dialogues.

I see echoes of our interactions in the 2013 film Belle. Based on the real-life events, the film concerns the relationship between the title character, a mixed-race girl and her white cousin who were raised as equals among the nobility in 18th century England. After Belle’s West Indian mother dies, her English father, Captain Sir John Lindsay is forced to leave his child with his unenthusiastic aunt and uncle, the Mansfields, in order to perform his military duties. It turns out the Mansfields’ daughter Elizabeth is the same age, and the two cousins develop a friendship they navigate into adulthood despite being overshadowed by the politics of race and class culture in their time.

The Curiosity Ladder

Adi Ignatius references recent research in the Harvard Business Review article, “Cultivate Curiosity.” The author notes: “Curiosity improves decision making because it reduces our susceptibility to stereotypes and to confirmation bias; it fuels employee engagement and collaboration; and it fortifies organizational resilience by prompting creative problem solving in the face of uncertainty and pressure. In short, curiosity boosts business performance.” Ignatius’s conclusion supports the argument for curiosity.

Judging → Understanding → Respecting → Appreciating → Valuing Differences*

Choosing curiosity as the tool to use when encountering someone different from ourselves provides the platform for understanding. Think of it this way: as humans, we climb to the first rung of the curiosity ladder when someone is different from us. This rung is called “Judging.” And the behavior of judging one another can cause conflict. If we choose to rise on the curiosity ladder, the next rung is “Understanding.” On this rung we can choose to practice curiosity and inquire and ask questions to understand. If we choose to go higher, we can move to the next rung of the ladder, “Respecting” and demonstrate respect for each other’s differences. From there we can strive to go higher and “Appreciating” each other’s differences. The highest rung of the ladder is one level higher: that of “Valuing” our differences. As we reach the height of “Valuing Differences” we are so far away from judging, we can instead choose to value the unique and exquisite differences our friends and colleagues bring to our work and our lives.

Perhaps when the majority of us get there, we will have transformed society! I remain hopeful our society can get there as a whole. The clip “Soul Sisters,” from a 2017 episode of CBS Sunday Morning shows us why. It profiles Miami preschoolers Jia Sarnicola and Zuri Copeland who say they are closer than best friends, closer than sisters, even. In fact, Jia and Zuri truly believe they’re twins - not because they share the same skin color (they don’t), but because they share the same soul.

*Based on DiSC® Classic, ©2011 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. “DiSC” and “Wiley” are registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Who Really Performs Better: The Perfectionist or the High Achiever?

 By: David B. Sarnoff, Esq., with Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David Robert  

Our work needs to be perfect, right? Isn’t the risk too great if it’s not? As a legal professional, you are likely to answer a resounding “Yes!” to both of the above.   

But, is perfection even possible? And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth trying to achieve?  

Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” This means that the perfectionist will continue to perform tirelessly until they believe the work product is perfect. But – and herein lies the problem – that belief is entirely subjective. So, the perfectionist may never believe they’ve achieved perfection. Spurred on by self-doubt, they labor interminably on a task, impacting overall project workflow, frustrating colleagues, straining imminent deadlines, and ultimately disappointing clients. (We’ve all heard the phrase “analysis paralysis,” and it may actually be the result of a culture of perfectionism.) 

“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”  
― Salvador Dali 

 Now, what about high achievers? Don’t they harbor the same tendencies as perfectionists? In some senses, yes. But there are key distinctions. “Although perfectionists and high achievers [both desire to] excel in their goals, there is a significant difference between the two,” says Robin Farber, an Executive Coach and Psychotherapist. “Perfectionists are driven by a perfect outcome as a way to seek temporary emotional relief from a painful feeling.” This suggests that perfectionists are motivated by the fear of failure or rejection. “Perfectionists find it difficult to enjoy the small wins along life‘s journey,” continues Farber, “which can take a toll on the individual, the team, and the organization.” 

High achievers, on the other hand, while also striving to produce an exceptional deliverable, cope better with disappointment and are not afraid of it. They see mistakes and failures as necessary steps on the road to success. Thus, they tend to have a more positive mindset, are less anxious, and find ways to celebrate even minor accomplishments and milestones.   

Now, you might say, “But clients demand perfection!” In truth, clients frequently tell us that they need their lawyers and team members to demonstrate agility, creativity, and openness to change in pursuit of an excellent result. A hyper-focus on perfectionism contradicts those competencies. Though perfectionists will claim – and believe – that they are focused on producing exceptional work product, their underlying fear of failure inevitably stifles the competencies our clients say they value.   

Sandy Rubenstein, CEO of the digital marketing firm DX Agency, sums the problem up perfectly. “A perfectionist can be the downfall of a creative environment, limiting the free flow of ideas and possibilities.” She adds, “Although perfectionists are typically great project managers, in today’s fluid business environment a perfectionist can sometimes have difficulty with the non-tangibles, the curve balls, and out-of-the-box thinking.”   

Sometimes the best ideas are borne from the analysis of a mistake. While certain mistakes can indeed be costly, if your firm consistently punishes even the slightest error, then a variety of valuable, constructive, and creative activity will be avoided for fear of embarrassment or rejection.  

What if you work alongside a perfectionist? As noted by author and therapist John Amodeo, PhD., “People who are addicted to perfection are often isolated. They don’t have many friends. They’re afraid that people will see through them, so they don’t let anyone get too close.”1  Thus, you can enhance the effectiveness of your interactions with a perfectionist via a handful of proven methods, one of which is empathy. “The most important thing is to be empathetic,” says David Robert, Chief Strategy Officer at Loeb Leadership. “Remember, perfectionists tend to fear rejection, so it’s important to let the person know that you understand their perspective.”  

Perhaps more challenging is how, as a leader, you should provide feedback to perfectionists vs. high achievers. High achievers, fortunately, welcome it. They require just a bit of “TLC” feedback to improve (i.e., Timely, Limited to one behavior, and clearly describing the Consequences of the behavior). For example, “Yesterday, we missed a deadline to get a draft to the client for review. The client is not happy.” This type of feedback, however, will land better with a high achiever ready to discuss what happened than with a perfectionist who may look to point blame elsewhere.  

In fact, because perfectionists tend to respond defensively to criticism, leaders often choose not to give any feedback. This is a mistake, because providing no feedback contributes to the loneliness that perfectionists can feel. It becomes a bit of a vicious circle. 

The good news is that, in our experience, most perfectionists are not unreasonable and will work with you to find some middle ground. “Once you demonstrate an understanding, then you can try to establish a shared vision,” notes Robert. “If you can agree on a shared vision, you’re in a better position to clarify where trade-offs can be made.” Robert suggests focusing on the client experience as a way to frame that discussion. Allow the common desire for exceptional client service to guide the process for getting work done.   

Creating an environment that rewards high achievers is the best way to ensure your team demonstrates the agility, creativity, and openness to change that clients value. High achievers “know that they are always learning and are striving to improve. Cultivating a culture that promotes high achievement and incorporates frequent feedback is often the way to the more ‘perfect’ outcomes, since high achievers are always striving,” says Natalie Loeb, CEO and leadership coach for Loeb Leadership.   

And don’t worry. If you describe yourself as a perfectionist, you’re in good company. Perfectionists who are self-aware tend to be more open to finding a middle ground as compared to those whose perfectionist tendencies reside in their blind spot. “One thing you can try immediately,” says Robert, “is to seek feedback from trusted colleagues. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you are to shift your mindset.”   

While striving for high-caliber results is any attorney’s goal, it must be balanced with rational and reasonable expectations of oneself and others. Lawyers never want to fail their clients, but incorporating certain successful elements of the tech mindset, “fail fast and fail forward,” can be helpful as we look to find a balance in our daily battle with perfectionism. Mistakes happen. Rebound quickly (fail fast) and learn from them (fail forward). Leaving space for non-perfection creates opportunities to build resilience, coping skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem. All qualities of high achievers. 

[1]Amodeo, John, PhD. (2018). 4 Perils of Perfectionism. Retrieved fromhttps://psychcentral.com/blog/4-perils-of-perfectionism/

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is Director of Strategic Partnerships of Loeb Leadership, Executive Coach and Leadership Trainer. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111. 

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership.  david@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111. 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Law Firm One Bus Hit Away from Chaos? The Urgency of Succession Planning

By:  Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq. 

Succession planning in the corporate world is vital to the survival of the entity beyond the involvement of its founders – does your firm have a plan for future leadership? For companies that sell products, proprietary programs and services, succession of leadership typically doesn’t affect the quality of the product or service.  However, law firms and other professional service companies can be greatly impacted by the death or departure of a highly skilled practitioner or rainmaker.   Many law firms are created by individuals who either have an expertise in a specific practice area and/or have established relationships that produce revenues to sustain the ongoing operation of the firm.  A significant challenge facing law firms of all sizes, is how to establish a stable business model that can survive and withstand changes in key personnel. 

First, let’s start with the definition of “succession planning:” 

“Identification and development of potential successors for key positions in an organization, through a systematic evaluation process and training. Unlike replacement planning (which grades an individual solely on the basis of his or her past performance) succession planning is largely predictive in judging an individual for a position he or she might never have been in.”[1] 

The goal of any succession plan should be to elevate the most qualified individuals who can maintain and improve the firm’s production, culture and leadership.  Succession planning is not an easy undertaking and requires strong leadership, a supportive culture, humility, objectivity and the absence of outsized egos.  Given the fact that many law firms are controlled by the individuals who produce the most revenue, or their closely associated allies, succession planning can present difficult challenges to initiating the planning process. 

According to David Robert, a leading Organizational Development Professional who has substantial experience working with law firms, “Effective succession planning is guided by three factors: (1) What role(s) are you focusing on, (2) how will you objectively evaluate successor readiness, and (3) how will you engage and develop your successors prior to their transition into the new role?”  In addressing the first question, the management of a law firm must identify the leadership positions of the firm that need to be staffed and sustained in order to successfully run the business of the firm.  Succession planning does not only apply to the attorney side of the firm, it also applies to business services positions such as the firm’s COO and CHRO. 

“Successor readiness,” is a key element to planning for the future.  To properly evaluate an individual’s practical legal skills, leadership abilities and assess intangibles such as emotional intelligence (“EI”) requires an objective eye.  Often, rivalries, firm politics and a toxic culture can derail the succession planning process.  In many cases, firms will engage external consultants such as OD professionals and executive coaches to assist with the design and implementation of the planning process. These professionals are generally certified in personality, leadership and values assessments, to assist in designing and outlining the necessary training to prepare future leadership. 

Once you have the right pieces in place to enact a plan, it is critical to have a fair process established to encourage participation from firm stakeholders.  As the succession planning team identifies possible successors, they must agree on how to approach that individual about being considered for a leadership role and whether that person is interested in being considered for this future role.  Assuming they are, the planning team should explain the purpose of the succession plan, what the firm’s process would be and the time frame in which it will be carried out.  There should be complete transparency about the process so that there are no misunderstandings or unintended surprises during the process.  This is not an easy undertaking, especially when multiple people are being considered for the position.  Obviously, personal feelings, professional relationships, egos and competition impact the process. 

It is likely that a law firm management team that initiates a succession planning program has a supportive firm culture.  However, a crucial question that David Robert raises is, “How does a firm’s culture influence the likelihood of a successful succession planning process?”  He continues, “for succession planning to ignite engagement and motivation across a firm, the process must be transparent, fair and objective. As soon as a partner bypasses the formal process and goes all in to advocate for a sacred cow, the process immediately loses credibility and could adversely impact engagement.” 

Many law firms have stood the test of time and have existed and thrived for decades.  However, there are law firms, including several that were once ranked in the AmLaw 200 that no longer exist because of significant lateral departures, planned retirements or turmoil that ultimately brought an end to the firm. 

There are many factors that can contribute to the demise of a law firm.  However, with a transparent, authentic and thoughtful succession planning process, a firm can harness significant buy-in from its stakeholders and rally support for the leaders that are selected to assume a higher-level role at an agreed upon time.  The process also allows for the individuals up for consideration to receive high caliber coaching, training and development to be equipped for the challenge.  The succession planning process positions new leaders to establish themselves and works to ensure the survival and vitality of the firm. 

 [1] Business Dictionary, www.businessdictionary.com 

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS

NATALIE LOEB is the Founder of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

GORDON LOEB is the COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach and a consultant to Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com. 

 

Are You Ready For Some Feedback?

By: Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.

It has been well established, and documented, that “feedback” is a vital component to professional and personal development1.  Feedback provides data that allows an individual or a team to self-analyze their performance and assess whether they are meeting individual and organizational goals.    

While the idea of feedback sounds simple and easy, in practice, it can be quite difficult to elicit honest and constructive observations.  Sometimes managers and executives are reluctant to provide feedback to employees, especially if the feedback is negative, for fear of inciting conflict.  Conversely, individuals or members of teams may be hesitant to provide honest constructive feedback to a supervisor for fear of being retaliated against.    

As executive coaches, one of our goals is to raise the emotional IQ (or emotional quotient EQ), and self-awareness of our clients.  Clients who participate in a thoughtful, professional and confidential 360-degree feedback process have the unique opportunity to get a look through the lens of others as to how they are perceived and viewed in their organizational role.   

A proper 360-degree feedback exercise requires the client to select a broad range of stakeholders in the organization, which typically include those that report to the client, peers of the client, are managers of the client, and can sometimes include executives of the organization.  Typically, the number of stakeholders in a 360-degree exercise range from seven to ten individuals.  

The executive coach conducts in-person or telephonic interviews with the stakeholders that last approximately thirty to forty-five minutes.   It is critical that this process be conducted with the highest level of ethics and confidentiality.  A successful 360-degree feedback process hinges on the coach’s ability to establish a trusting relationship with the stakeholder to elicit an honest and frank assessment.  

According to Dr. Michael Frisch2,“it is the human condition that there is always a gap between our intentions and the impact we have on others.”   Dr. Frisch’s observation of a “gap” in our intentions and actions can have a negative impact on a team or department when it goes unidentified.  If a manager or executive lacks self-awareness, their behaviors can have a corrosive effect on their team, even though their intent was to make their team better.   Dr. Frisch explains this dynamic, “because there are several opportunities for slippage as intentions are channeled into behaviors and then those behaviors are experienced by others, depending on their individual perceptions.  The size of the gap between intentions and impact varies depending on many factors but leaders need to monitor this gap and keep it as small as possible.”  To properly monitor this “gap,” leaders must be able to rely on honest, genuine and thoughtful feedback.    

Sometimes, participants in a 360-degree interview session are reluctant to be critical or honest for fear of retaliation, while others may use this opportunity to settle a score and be overly critical of a subject.  A good coach will be able to analyze the feedback to ensure that a sufficient sample of stakeholders are utilized to address outliers and evaluate the validity of the feedback.  

Honest and constructive feedback is necessary for anyone who wants to lead a team or organization, as it provides an objective assessment as to whether your actions are creating a response that aligns with your leadership intentions.   “A leader who is intending to be firm and clear about certain performance goals yet is perceived by others as judgmental or angry will be disappointed about results if he or she doesn't discover the gap so that it can be corrected,” stated Dr. Frisch.  He continues, “this makes both informal and formal feedback essential for leaders to find out how intentions are coming across to others so that adjustments can be made.”  

Once the executive coach completes the stakeholder interviews, the coach will then compile all the feedback and analyze it for consistent themes, examples of behavior and feedback that is particularly constructive.  The coach will then prepare a 360-degree Report for the client that delineates the areas of strength to continue leveraging and suggestions for improvement.  The coach will meet with their client to review and discuss the feedback.    

It is important for the coach to present the feedback in the spirit of growth and development, and not to focus or dwell on negative comments.  The client will then have the opportunity to review and absorb the feedback and, in consultation  with their executive coach, draft a development plan.  This plan allows the client to apply the feedback and work it into a plan of action to raise performance, self-awareness, enhance and build relationships, and be an all-around more productive, energized and focused employee and leader.  

Dr. Frisch in sum says, “making the sharing of feedback usual and safe and then using it to adjust leadership behaviors to better align intentions with impact, should be standard operating procedure for leaders even though it requires ongoing effort.”  The development plan provides a road map for the client, which can be amended to address concerns or behaviors that may arise at any given time.  

At the end of the day, 360-degree feedback is a rich resource to assist employees at all levels of an organization, to increase their awareness and become more productive leaders.  It is invaluable to learn whether the “behavior intentions” of a leader are having a positive impact on their team, or vice versa.  Once there is an acknowledgement and awareness how others perceive you, there is a unique opportunity to either reinforce behavior that is having the desired effect, or an opportunity to adjust and change behavior that may be unproductive or damaging.  

While a 360-degree feedback process can be challenging, an experienced and skilled executive coach can navigate the process and provide a customized and career elevating experience.  

Information About the Authors: 

Natalie Loeb is the CEO, Founder and Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership. She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com

Gordon Loeb is a Principal of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach.  He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com

David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach of Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com  

 

 

An Executive’s Dilemma: The Challenge of Supporting A Work/Life Balance While Holding Employees Accountable

by Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb, & David B. Sarnoff, Esq. 

Anyone who has recently engaged in hiring has found out that it is a fairly tight labor market and quality candidates are in short supply.  While a focus on recruiting is important, equally so is to retain and inspire current employees.  This has proven more challenging than many executives, law firm partners, and managers expect.  What seems to be a constant theme of discussion in management circles is, how do we provide a culture where work/life balance is encouraged while still holding employees accountable for performance, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling responsibilities?  Due to the sensitivities around this topic, the interviewees preferred that they and their companies not be identified. 

A senior-level executive at a media company states, “Work/life balance has to be part of the organization’s culture and that is set from the top down.”  This executive continues, “It’s about managing the whole person for success, not just the ‘work’ person.”  He says many employees are derailed when experiencing personal matters such as marital issues, substance abuse, depression, or an illness with a family member.  Executives and managers should show empathy for employees who are experiencing tough times.  This also sends a message to other employees that they matter, and the firm has their best interests at heart. 

In the media world, there is constant pressure and deadlines and it can be a high stress environment.  This executive tells his colleagues and employees, “Take all your vacation time and don’t leave any on the table.  You need time to recharge your batteries.”  He is not saying that employees shouldn’t work hard.  However, he does believe that “managers need to take time and learn about their employees and what they need.  Leadership and managing is complicated and hard.  The easiest thing is to tell an employee ‘no’.”  However, each employee is different, and managers need to engage employees and find out about the “whole” employee; this helps establish culture and leadership. 

With respect to “accountability,” the media executive states, “Executives and managers must establish a clear expectation concerning accountability.”  Is this a firm where you are expected to respond to emails on weekends?  Are employees allowed to leave for their child’s school play?  Are managers approachable when employees need to discuss personal matters that are affecting performance?  Are executives and partners willing to coach employees for career development or make accommodations that will make employees more productive?  This executive sums up that “millennials have made it clear that work/life balance is a priority for them and they want a full life.  It should not be a tough issue, but it is for many companies.”  Executives and partners will learn that disgruntled employees are not productive, and it is costly and disrupting to lose and replace high performers and high potentials. 

Another CEO in a consumer goods company has a different problem.  “To be honest, a big part of the conversation revolves around the problem that some employees work too much instead of not enough.  This is a particular problem with people who work from home.  They often work way more than 40 hours and seem to never be far from work and never really leave it, so burnout is an issue.”  He continued, “I used to worry about remote workers goofing off all day but that has seldom been a real problem. Once in a while, but not much. I have more problems with my office staff texting and checking Facebook or doing online shopping.” 

He adds, “Culture plays a big role. For us, the culture starts with how we try to foster a supportive atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes.”  He sums up by noting, “At the end of the day we have to balance the company’s needs to stay afloat and achieve our goals and objectives.  I have found that in general it is better to trust people and deal with the occasional abuser than to tighten the screws on everyone and have an uptight culture.  Most people are good and want to do the right thing.  The few bad apples end up self-selecting out of the system.” 

Professional service companies such as law firms and accounting firms provide for other work/life issues.  As one law firm partner relayed, “When you bill by the hour, profitability depends on meeting and/or exceeding targeted billing requirements.  However, sometimes it feels as if you are only as good as your last monthly revenue generation.”  Law firm partners face many challenges in providing for work/life balance because of the nature of the profession.  At times, litigation can require significant time demands in engaging in motion practice, depositions, discovery, and preparing for trial.  Likewise, transactional practices require significant due diligence, document review, extensive negotiations, and document drafting.  Law firm partners seem to be confronting, more and more, a generational disconnect with associates that impacts a balance in work/life culture, policies, and how they are communicated and modeled to employees.  We hear from many partners that when they were associates, they “worked grueling hours on a regular basis and that was just an accepted part of the job description.”  One law firm partner stated, “I am still waiting to find a junior ‘me’ as an associate, someone dedicated, hardworking, and does what is required.” 

The question that needs to be asked is: What is work/life balance? Is it leaders who model this culture for associates and staff to see?  For instance, leaving the office at a reasonable hour, not emailing late at night, and taking vacation days?  Conversely, is it leaving at a reasonable hour for whatever reason, but working late at night and on weekends to get the work done on time?  This is the challenge that companies face.  What culture does your organization support?  And how does it reinforce this culture? 

Law firm associates, in many cases, have voiced concern over working excessive hours and spending time on routine or mundane assignments.  Associates want challenging and stimulating assignments, mentoring, and skills development to advance their career potential.  Additionally, they want their hours kept in a reasonable range.  Some law firms have raised compensation to attract and retain top talent.  However, increasing compensation alone doesn’t always lower attrition.  Research shows that when compensation is tied to other measures, there is a likelihood of greater job satisfaction. 

Specifically, these measures can include the following: 1) Providing stimulating work; 2) Recognizing employees for work done well; 3) Nurturing a culture so that employees believe they are part of something bigger than themselves; and 4) Leaders should explore the goals and aspirations of employees and support the attainment of those goals. Research and studies, including work by B.F. Skinner, bolster the notion that money alone will not inspire and motivate employees in the long term. However, a positive and meaningful culture, paired with professional and personal development will have greater impact. 

A company’s work/life balance should be firmly ingrained in the organization’s culture.  Culture is established and reinforced by executives and this behavior should be modeled by managers and group leaders.  Just remember, leadership and managing employees is hard work, if it is done right.  

 INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS:  

NATALIE LOEB is the Founder of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. 
She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com, 
866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

GORDON LOEB is the COO of Loeb Leadership  and an Executive Coach. 
He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach for Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com.