Listening and Leadership

Statistics tell us that people will forget up to 95% of what they are told within 3-7 days.  It’s important to make an impact with the 5% that people do remember. On the other side of the coin, communication experts have found that a key method for improving leadership perception is to create better listening skills. Here are a few simple leadership listening techniques that can increase your effectiveness immediately when incorporating into your daily interactions.

It is important to remember that when you are listening, you are in a two-way conversation.  Your part in that conversation may be primarily silent, but in order for your conventional partner to feel “listened to”, they must also feel that you are committing your energy to the listening process. The listening skills suggested below will help you enhance that perception.  The true desire to listen, however, comes from within. Like a positive message that is not delivered from the heart, listening “behaviors” displayed without the heartfelt commitment to understand your speaker will be seen as phony and dishonest. 

  • Maintain relaxed eye contact with the other person.  A good ratio to maintain is 50% on your partner, 50% away.
  • Use a variety of “filler” comments such as “I see”, “OK” or “I understand”.
  • Use reflective listening techniques to draw the other person out, or when responding to critical feedback so you don’t seem defensive.  A way to say this is to use the PPP approach: paraphrase, probe, and present options.  To do so:
    1. Listen to what s/he is saying.
    2. Reflect back by saying something like, “I hear you saying ______________, is that accurate?”
    3. Continue to revise until the person feels you understand them (i.e., “So you’re saying _____________, is that correct?”).
    4. To present options, present two or three possibilities for consideration, such as, “Well, what if we tried to…”
  • Good listening is like playing a friendly game of volleyball – you want the ball to go over the net.  Allow the conventional volley to continue as long as possible. Avoid quick, dead end responses that shut down or close off dialogue.  To do so, use gentle prompts or open ended questions to encourage your speaker to share their input. “Tell me more about…”, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”  S-T-R-E-T-C-H the response out longer than you do in normal conversation. 
  • Increase facial expression – nod, smile with understanding, raise brow if you question something, furrow the brow or squint your eyes slightly only to show concern or empathy, etc., and make sure the voice tone you use matches your mood.
  • Avoid giving a quick verbal brush-off response such as “Sure.  Now about that ______________.” If you are a fast processor or high energy person who can jump into your response so quickly that you often interrupt, take a silent count to 3 when you feel the impulse to speak.  This should allow you enough of a pause to be certain that your speaker is finished.

Take some extra time to listen, absorb and respond to what people are telling you.  A few minutes invested here can have a major payoff later, since you will appear far more engaged as a listener.

Do You Have Talent Sitting on the Bench?

Wasted Potential is Wasted Money — Five Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

In professional sports, it’s called dead money. Salaries, sometimes exorbitant, are being paid to athletes who do little more than sit on the bench. On a less dramatic scale, most businesses are paying out dead money too. By some estimates, the majority of employees are working at only 60 percent capacity. Imagine the boost to your bottom line if you could energize and inspire your employees to give you more of what they’re capable of at work. Even if you have a small staff, the results could equate to an additional full-time equivalent at no extra cost.

It’s not that employees are lazy. It’s business owners who unknowingly make it unlikely, even impossible, for employees to perform at 100 percent. 

Want everybody off the bench and in the game? These are the mistakes to avoid.

Having Sticky Fingers

Delegation is one of the toughest skills for managers to master. Most attempts fall into a gray area, where the manager kind of lets go. It generally takes one of two forms: the manager either hovers closely, making constant “I wouldn’t do it quite like that” comments, or backs off so far and offers so little input that the project is doomed to fail.

Either way, the manager eventually swoops in like a hero and reclaims the duties. It doesn’t take long for an employee to realize, “It doesn’t matter what I do. It’s going to be redone or rejected anyway.” Motivation is deflated.

Delegation works well if one is delegating the right activities to the right people.  Once the right activities and right people are identified, offer support and coaching, but make handoffs real and lasting. Let employees take full ownership — they get the accolades of the win or the consequences of the loss — and you’ll see them step up to the plate.

Creating a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Environment

So, your employees aren’t dropping by to tell you they’ve officially mastered Spider Solitaire and need a new challenge? Good. Everything must be fine.

Wrong. In our uncertain times, few employees have the courage to admit they could do more. In addition, individuals who do step forward are historically rewarded with low priority, we’ll-do-it-when-we-have-time jobs like purging old files or taking down the office Christmas tree.

People will generally look busy, and may actually be busy, but don’t assume they’re busy doing the right things. You need to ask. Make the inquiry non-threatening and mutually beneficial: “I want you to be happy and feel challenged at work. What kinds of things would you like to be doing more of?” Or, “You’re so good at keeping things organized and seem to enjoy it. How else could we put that talent to good use around here?”

Playing Dr. Evil

In the Austin Powers motion pictures, Dr. Evil was always fawning over his miniature clone, Mini-Me, while he ignored his son Scott Evil, who was usually offering some much-needed common sense. 

Managers often have more trust in others who look and act much like themselves. Or they appreciate a certain trait, like extroversion over introversion. In an increasingly diverse workplace, it’s important to recognize that talent comes in many packages. 

Challenge your own belief that only some employees have the potential to be highly productive contributors, and look for ways to cultivate performance in all individuals.

Punishing Through Promotions

The popular book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, shed light on the startling fact that only 20 percent of employees felt that their strengths were in play every day at work. That number sunk even lower the longer employees stayed with an organization and the higher they climbed up the corporate ladder.

Good performance demands recognition, monetary rewards, and additional responsibility. There are many ways beyond the traditional title change to do that. Don’t let an organizational chart dictate what it means to be successful. Figure out what talent you’re working with and let the org chart reflect it.

Forgetting to Mention What You Need

Have you ever sent your spouse to the grocery store without a list? It doesn’t end well — for either of you. Technology has brought us a long way, but there’s still not anybody who’s consistently able to read your mind. Unclear expectations are the single largest inhibitor to peak performance, breeding frustration, inefficiency, and conflict.

Tell an employee it would be nice to see a summary of recent sales results, and watch them churn. Say you need an Excel spreadsheet with total revenue by client with monthly subtotals going back to January, and you need it by Monday, and they’re on a mission.

Some of the most profound changes I’ve seen in organizations have been the result of implementing simple, but highly effective, expectation-setting tools and models. Master this one skill and you will see dramatic changes.

Clear the Bench and Win the Game

In the current business and economic environment, many things are out of your control — however engaging and challenging your employees is not among them. Smart business owners know that wasted potential is wasted money. If you have players who are coasting, observing the game instead of jumping in to help you win, it’s time to blow the whistle, huddle up, and make some changes.

Talent Management: Three Vital Skills Every Leader Must Hone

When it comes to hiring or promoting talent, organizations have shifted 180 degrees in the partnerships they are seeking.  In just a handful of years, we have gone from the scenes of the 90’s and early 2000’s, when the economy was booming and organizations were just happy to get warm bodies in the door – to a strong, immediate reaction of downsizing and cutting out development programs – to today, where we see an increased internal sophistication in our organizations.  This increased sophistication of talent in our organizations allows them to effectively identify and solve their own problems as well as recognize the importance of value through shared risk; this creates a shift in partnerships being sought to people who can do that, too – the “right people.”

Organizations now want to get the right person in the right seat, across the board.  So what determines “right person” or can you do anything to influence being the “right person?”  At the core, it’s a vital skill set. Whether you are looking to hire top talent (employees and outside service providers), grow a business with the right clients, or elevate yourself internally as a high performer with potential for promotion, the following three skills are critical to the achievement of these ambitions.

  1. Agility – moving quickly and easily in many situations; displaying nimbleness and the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly.  Agility is key in many settings, including:
  • Learning:  the willingness to be adaptable and confront what one does not know how to do.
  • Interactions:  learning from experience and demonstrating resilience under pressure.
  • Seeking results:  getting results under tough conditions building confidence in others.
  • Intellectual pursuits:  thinking through problems from a fresh point of view, being comfortable with complexity, and successfully explaining thinking to others.
  • Change:  curiosity and passion for ideas; enjoyment of skill-building activities.
  1. Resilience– the ability to recover quickly (from change, illness, or misfortune).
  2. EQ – Emotional Intelligence.  How one responds to and uses emotions to inform decisions and actions based on outside stimuli.

Each of these skills correlates significantly with someone who has high potential, has good-to-excellent performance and who stays out of trouble. 

Interestingly, studies have shown that these three vital skills are NOT related to IQ or personality variables.  What does this mean? It means that most people can learn and hone these skills – it is not a situation where you either have them or you don’t.  Yes, you achieved in school, you are successful in your chosen career path – you are intellectually smart. Perhaps you are even likeable! So ask yourself, “How do I rank on agility, resilience and EQ?”  You might not know. This knowledge demands self-awareness and the willingness to hear what others think about you and/or observe in you.   

Given that agility, resilience and EQ are learned behavior for most people, here are some options to consider if interested in honing these skills:

  1. Seek out a professional coach or talent agent.  You will receive honest feedback and most importantly, suggested actions you can take to increase your fluidity in these areas on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Ask your friends, peers, colleagues, clients what they see in you in each of the above areas.  Let them know you are increasing your awareness and want to further your skill in those areas – ask for specific examples or situations so you can have clarity in what they are observing.  You also might ask what they would suggest as behaviors they would have liked to have seen for different outcomes.
  3. Engage in a full circle (also known as a 360-degree) assessment.  A full circle assessment is a clear and tangible way to measure where you are now and areas where you could make improvement to enhance your opportunities for success.  This tool provides a baseline measure in which you can easily gage improvement over time. It also allows for confidential, anonymous feedback from various people in your life, which is likely to provide true and real information for you.  

Some of you will find the knowledge of these vital skills or differentiators interesting.  However, many of you will ignore the opportunity to advance through these recognized differentiators and will continue to operate as you always have – which, unquestionably, has worked well for you on many occasions in the past.  A small percentage of you, however, are adaptors who are primed to elevate and will follow these differentiators as stepping stones, accelerating you to the next level of success. In this new and changing world, this differing approach to the proven vital skills will define “right” for our new hires, our promotions, our selection of outside provides, our engagement with our clients …and for our own path to success.

Career Navigation: You are Successful and You've Just Been Let Go, Now What?

The job market for lawyers is hot right now, yet we are still in an era of job elimination and the reality is that change is a constant, and for career success you must be prepared for change at all times. If your job circumstances change, what are some immediate steps can you take?

1. Handle yourself professionally and express your appreciation for the opportunity your employer gave you.

Your termination may be unexpected or unfair, but the old maxim of “never burn a bridge” is one rule with no exception. After you have gathered yourself, express appreciation for the opportunity given to you. Showing business and professional maturity will serve you in your job search and your career.

2. Obtain letters of recommendation with your colleagues.

Letters of recommendation still go a long way in catching the attention of prospective employers. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to obtain a letter from your direct supervisor, consider asking others within your organizations. This could include other partners with whom you have worked, colleagues, adversaries, judges, business leads and if appropriate and within ethical bounds, clients.

3. Request Outplacement Assistance.

Outplacement is an employer-funded personalized service that addresses the need of an individual moving into a new position. Working with an outplacement provider is radically different than working with a recruiter. In short, you are the client, not the employer. Outplacement provides educational assistance and various types of support into new employment. It is commonplace amidst law firms in the Minnesota market to provide outplacement assistance; just make sure the outplacement provider has substantial experience working with attorneys and legal personnel versus the general public. A job search for a legal position requires additional tactics than the typical job search.

4. Network.

Sometimes human nature causes us to overlook tapping into our network as one begins a job search. We suddenly feel “funny” about talking with our network, or we panic because we think we have no network at all. Recognize that in today’s world everyone you know has been or has someone in his/her life who has been let go. It does not have to be a mark on your career; it is all in how you handle it. Our experience has also been that one’s existing employer (partners, associates, clients, outside counsel, co-counsel and staff) can be a surprisingly great starting point.

5. Don’t be discouraged by the job boards.  

For many individuals, reading and relying on the job boards can be a negative experience. “Ads” are only one way employers staff positions. The “hidden job market” is alive and well, and part of your learning process will be learning how to tap into that market.

6. Meet with a well-respected, experienced legal recruiter.

One such resource for the hidden job market is a recruiter. If you are unaware of a reputable recruiter, ask the management in your organization if they know of a well-regarded recruiter. Such a recruiter will have a consulting relationship with various organizations, which can help you move beyond being one of a pile of resumes on someone’s desk. In short, a recruiter can be your advocate, a direct voice to the employer. A knowledgeable recruiter can also shed light on matters like compensation systems, adaptability to laterals, support strengths and management philosophies.

7. Be judicious about sending out your resume.

Many of us are tempted to “paper the town” once we begin a job search. While this can be effective for a certain segment of the candidate marketplace, it can also backfire. This is particularly true if your objective involves a shift in career direction. Also, on many occasions you must be wanting just to network with your contact and may set yourself up for a rejection letter. Use your good judgment. The key is not allowing your letters and resumes to become more junk mail on someone’s desk or inbox.

Too often people just take a position that is the “same” as what they exited because they can’t stand being uncomfortable or being in the unknown.  There is a bright side in an “unchosen” career shift. It is an opportunity to reevaluate what is important to you, what you want to be doing and what skills you want to hone as you move forward.  Take advantage of the time and go through self-exploration. You are successful and that is not lost because of a career shift. Your success will carry you forward into your next opportunity – it is to your benefit if you are eyes open and know why you are choosing what you are choosing.  

The Talent Strategy

There is heightened awareness of talent being the most important asset of a business.  We are in a time where leadership knows that without strong, qualified, skilled people, the business can’t function.  Yet, a recent gallup survey revealed nationally, businesses lost $11 billion annually as a direct result of talent turnover.  This same study cited that executives estimate 65% of their top talent will turnover in the next five years and that only 29% of their entire workforce is engaged.  In addition to surveys like this, academics and consultants are emphasizing concern around the high attrition of retiring baby boomers and the impending labor shortage, the low unemployment rates and the stiff competition amongst companies to recruit the same limited numbers of top talent.  Is it any wonder that the number one business issue cited for the next five years is improving talent management?

While it is true that we will be experiencing a high number of retiring baby boomers, a smaller work force and attrition of talent remains extremely costly to a business, we are also entering a time of opportunity.  Opportunity will be seized by those businesses that intentionally do two things

1) Challenge the notion that every vacant seat by a baby boomer will need to be refilled, that every company is looking for the same top talent, and that attrition is bad for business and

2) Create and implement an effective and reliable Talent Strategy; a workable plan to attract, select, onboard, engage, develop and retain talent.

How does a business challenge the norm and take advantage of opportunity?

Step 1. Realign vision, mission, values to people and systems.

If leaders look with fresh eyes at their business today and to their future plan, they might see the the setup, the communication needed, the systems and the people might be different in the future to keep living the vision.  Instead of just doing things the way they have always been done or have evolved over time, intentionally create a start over on paper; does the vision and mission still make sense, is it clearly communicated, do we have too many positions, are the responsibilities and expectations clear.  All of these questions are opportunities to thoughtfully evolve your business to meet its future.

By starting now, a reformed organizational chart, workflow processes and communication systems can be retooled and shifted gradually as people retire or vacate positions.  For example, the use of technology, key performance indicators, and clear expectations might allow a business focused on work/life balance to focus on creating integrated lives for employees.  Maybe there is an opportunity to relook at walls and work hours when it comes to function, performance and employee success.  

Step 2.  The Fear of a Talent Shortage.

The right talent or the definition of top talent is different in every organization.  Every business should not be going after the same people. Just as every business has a vision, mission and value system so does each person.  One person who is a fit in one organization does not automatically mean they will be a success in another. To take advantage of opportunity, a business should think about their vision, mission and values; clearly identify the function and expectations around the role they are filling and then hire someone that connects with that organizational foundation – this is culture fitting.  

Step 3.  Some attrition, despite the cost, is healthy and good for a business.

The heathy evolution of every business depends on some people outgrowing the company or role.  Or the role demands outgrowing the person. It is the natural way. Just like a fire in a forest is healthy and needed to promote new lush growth.  The more attentive and better planning leaders are, the more the natural transition of talent with the pace of the business can occur. Evaluating the right person for the right seat at the right time is a continual part of any successful business planning process.

Step 4.  Talent Strategy.

Top Talent has a choice and they know it.  So, what makes one company better than another?  How can you be sure to attract top talent so you can even choose the one(s) you want to hire?  The answer to this question is talent strategy and management. It starts with how well a business knows itself.  

  1. Understand yourself
  2. Think creatively
  3. Compelling Story

Acknowledge, define a talent life cycle.  Know who is in your company and set a plan to develop everybody.  Not in the same way but a way appropriate to the function and the individual.  Identify early on high potential talent and start fully developing them as part of the business succession planning system.

The practice of focusing on strengthening the internal culture and development of talent will immediately begin to strengthen your external brand, client relationships, production and sales.

Leaders of entrepreneurial organizations have the ability to put your head down, plow forward and just get it done.  Historically, that has worked okay. If you haven’t noticed already, it won’t keep working the same way as talent underneath the leadership won’t have the same charging force.  Like a wild turkey stretching its neck up above the brush to see what is around and cast vision on the next steps for an efficient and safe path, so too are our leaders called forth to lift their heads, and proclaim the next steps and develop others to lead on the path to the future.

Clearly, businesses need to take action to attract the right people, retain their top employees and engage their workforce. No matter what the size of the organization, the costs are just too great not to address the market changes around talent.

Leadership Effectiveness: Silent Communication Speaks Louder Than Words

The most successful leaders are those who strategically align their policies, actions, behaviors, and body language with their verbal messages. Here are three reasons why the future of effective leadership is linked with non-verbal communication.

1. THE VISUAL TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION MAKES BODY LANGUAGE SKILLS CRUCIAL.

Leaders have always been under scrutiny, but with future developments in visual technology, a leader’s body language will be even more exposed to evaluation. For example, there is no doubt that videoconferencing and telepresence, which allows participants to see and be seen as life-size images, can help build stronger bonds and improve rapport. However, video communication can also heighten participants’ anxiety and self-consciousness because there is no hiding behind a text message or computer screen. Leaders will need to develop their nonverbal skills to make the most of these tools.

2. LEADERS TODAY ARE EXPECTED TO BE EMPATHIC AND TRUSTWORTHY.

The body language of effective leaders will be increasingly “warm.” There are two sets of body language cues that followers look for in leaders. One set projects warmth and empathy whereas the other signals power and status. Both are necessary for leaders today and will be critical to the success of leaders in the future. However, if your organization is headed toward a collaborative structure and philosophy, then effective leadership becomes less about projecting power and more about building relationships. Relationship-building, in turn, is all about the body language of trust, inclusion and empathy. So the “soft side” of nonverbal communication, which has been undervalued and underutilized by leaders more concerned with projecting strength, status and authority, will become central to achieving business goals.

3. AUTHENTICITY WILL BE INCREASINGLY REVEALED THROUGH BODY LANGUAGE.

Body language reveals character. No leader, regardless of how skilled a non-verbal communicator, can fool the people who work with him or her over an extended period of time. Sooner or later, your body will give you away. Like good manners and good grammar, body language is a tool for expressing your “best” self in a certain situation and is a highly valuable tool. It just can’t hide your character.

EFFECTIVE NONVERBAL LEADERSHIP TIPS

1. BEFORE AN IMPORTANT MEETING, BREATHE.

Right before you enter the meeting room, deeply inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you are unobserved, make a soft “ahh” sound. Doing so releases the tension in your neck, shoulders and jaw that can make you look rigid or aggressive. Do this one to three times.

2. NOTICE HOW FAST YOU CAN MAKE OR BREAK RAPPORT.

While seated at a conference table across from your counterpart, push back from the table and lean away from them. You’ll most likely see your counterpart react in kind by backing away from you. Now lean forward and put your hands on the table (with your palms showing), look them in the eyes and smile. Watch as the interaction warms up and is much more friendly and open. That’s how fast your body language can help you build or break rapport.

3. TO INCREASE TEAM PRODUCTIVITY, KEEP YOUR BODY LANGUAGE OPEN.

People are constantly monitoring their leader for emotional cues. If your body looks closed, depressed or angry, these postures and their corresponding emotions will be subconsciously picked up and mimicked by your team. It’s a process called “emotional contagion” – and it can also work in your favor. If you keep your posture relaxed, inclusive and open, your team will respond by being more cohesive, positive and productive.

4. TO LOOK DECISIVE, ROTATE YOUR PALMS DOWN.

In essence, gestures with palms exposed show that you are open and willing to negotiate on a particular point, while palms turned down indicate that you are closed to negotiation. But people also automatically pronate their hands when they feel strongly about something. In fact, a definitive gesture of authority when you speak is placing both hands palms down, on or right above the conference table.

5. MAKE YOUR MOVEMENT AND GESTURES PURPOSEFUL.

Just like you bullet point out a pitch or presentation, do the same with gestures. Human beings are drawn to movement. If you move when you speak, you’ll catch people’s attention. It can be especially effective to move toward the audience before making a key point and away when you want to signal a break or a change of subject. You can also use space to reinforce your ideas. You have the most impact when you combine movement with physical pauses in which you stand absolutely still to highlight your most important points.

The good news is that whatever your nonverbal communication is right now, you can increase your awareness and change ineffective body language habits. You can develop a deeper understanding of the impact that certain nonverbal behaviors have on your audiences and you can add more effective gestures, postures and expressions to your leadership repertoire. The most charismatic, influential and powerful body language will always be that which is totally congruent with who you are, what you stand for and what you truly believe.

Creating a Calmer Self

It is difficult to make sound decisions, nurture relationships, think creatively, control our reactions, manage conflict or be optimistic, happy or effective when we are under stress and perceived expectations. The first and best action we can take regularly to increase our effectiveness in all times, is to be self-aware – know what is going on with us in the given moment and use learned practices to control and deliver the messages or actions we want – this is our emotional intelligence. Being self-aware and accessing and managing our emotional

intelligence is not simply will power. Science has shown we experience physical and chemical changes in our bodies when under stress. These physical reactions can create a lack of self-control and block access to our “thinking” part of the brain. It is our duty to know ourselves and learn and practice techniques that will support our emotional intelligence and our effectiveness.

While studying transcendental meditation in the 1970s, Herbert Benson M.D., discovered that certain changes in our body occur with deep relaxation – reduced heart rate, lowered blood pressure, relaxed muscles, and altered brain-wave patterns. Benson named this state of calmness our “relaxation response,” and viewed it as biology’s answer to the fight-or-flight response – which is the set of changes that occur when we experience danger or acute stress. Here are a few tangible practices to access the relaxation response, thereby increasing your emotional intelligence and your effectiveness in the moment:

1. Deep Breathing

• Take a normal breath and notice how it feels.

• Now take a slow, deep breath so your belly expands. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

• Take one normal breath, then one slow breath. How does that feel?

• Practice deep breathing for several minutes, sighing on the exhale.

• Breathe deeply for 10 minutes and say silently to yourself, “Breathing in peace and calm, breathing out tension and anxiety.”

2. Muscle Relaxation

• Take several deep breaths.

• Concentrate on your forehead. Tighten these muscles, while counting slowly from one to five. Hold them tight as you can, then let go while taking a slow, deep breath. Repeat.

• Repeat this process, moving down your body, tightening a particular set of muscles for a count of one to five, then releasing them as you take a deep breath: jaw, neck, chest, abdomen, right shoulder, right upper arm, right forearm, right fist, left shoulder, left upper arm, left forearm, left fist, pelvis and buttocks, right thigh, right calf, right foot, left thigh, left calf and left foot.

• Do a mental check from head to toe to sense any remaining stress. Repeat the areas that need it.

3. Visualizing

• Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.

• Imagine in your mind, a special place where you know you can relax.

• Spend time in this place and take in what’s around you. Focus on colors and shapes. Focus on smells and sounds. Focus on movement and sensations.

• Allow yourself to become totally absorbed in the sense of peace.

4. Self-Talk

• Identify one negative thought pattern that plays repeatedly in your head and write it down as a sentence or two.

• Ask yourself these four questions: Does this thought contribute to my stress? Where did I learn this thought? Is this a logical thought? Is this thought true?

• Create your own restructured thought and write it down under the original one. Refer to it whenever the negative thought reemerges.

5. Meditate

The practice of meditation involves a turning inward of our attention, a repetitive focus on breathing or a simple word, phrase or prayer. You may choose a word that is secular (Peace) or religious (Hail Mary or Shalom). In this exercise, we suggest using the old Sanskrit mantra, Ham Sah (Ham means I am; Sah means that), because the sounds reflect the sensations of breathing and letting go.

• Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Starting with the number 10, silently count down to zero, breathing in and out on each count.

• Now as you breathe in, say the word “Ham” (pronounced ham) silently to yourself. As you exhale, concentrate on the word “Sah” (pronounced saah).

• Continue to note your breathing. As you inhale, pause for a few seconds. As you exhale, pause for a few seconds.

• Stay as focused as you can on your breathing and these words.

• When it’s time to close, continue to be aware of your breathing, but start to become aware of your surroundings. Slowly open your eyes and take in what is around you. Get up gradually.

Don’t judge yourself as you meditate. If your mind wanders or your thoughts race around, just calmly resume your breathing and repeat your phrase. Begin by setting aside 10 minutes for each session, then gradually work up to 20.

Career Navigation – Mindful Leadership and Lawyers

Mindfulness has proven to be a powerful tool for leaders. Chief executives at small and large corporations alike have embraced mindful practices for themselves as well as implementing company-wide initiatives, such as meditation and yoga, to guide employees in becoming more mindful. The programs have resulted in happier workplaces, but have also increased profitability and sustainability.

Could this be true for lawyers, too? Yes! What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present in the moment you are in. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world. It has to do with examining who we are, our place in the world and being in touch.

Tangible Benefits Experienced by Professionals With a Mindfulness Practice

• Stress reduction.

• Ability to think before reacting.

• More clarity and focus.

• Increased access to creativity and innovation.

• More patience and gratitude.

• Better self-awareness.

• Increased problem solving ability.

• Increased neuroplasticity in our brains to assist in the changing of long-held patterns/habits of thinking/behaving that doesn’t work for us anymore.

Practically, mindfulness is a way to strike a balance between emotion and logic. Some might say, it’s another way to increase your emotional intelligence agility. Imagine your brain as a continuum with emotion on one end and logic on the other, the goal being to center yourself between the two. The mindfulness practice will help you become centered. The practice enables

you strike a balance between emotion and logic so you can increase your effectiveness in your role. No matter where you are on the continuum of logic and emotion, it is never too late to begin practicing mindfulness and experience the rewards. The goal is starting and then integrating a consistent practice into your daily routine. One form of mindfulness practice is meditation.

Suggested Daily Meditation Practice

• Upon waking – sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair.

• Sit upright, spine straight.

• Soften your gaze.

• Find your breath.

• Close your mouth and breathe

through your nose.

• Notice your breath flowing in and out over your top lip.

• Put your attention on that spot above your upper lip – notice, feel and observe your breath moving in and out.

• If your mind wanders and you begin thinking about something else – notice that you are thinking and invite yourself back to your breath. Do this as many times as needed. Gradually, you might notice your mind wanderings lessen.

Start by doing this practice for 10 minutes a day. Gradually increase the time in small increments to 30 minutes. The key is to do this practice every day at the same time, sit in the same spot and recognize that this is a discipline similar to exercise routines. There are times when you might need to force yourself to sit for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter how you come to your sitting, it just matters that you do it. Typically, it takes at least six weeks of daily, consistent practice to reap real and lasting rewards. Yet, many claim positive results after only a week of regular practice.

Additional examples of mindfulness tools and practices include:

Stay Awake – Mind Body Connection

Most of us have experienced emotions so strong that it seemed as if our body was being possessed by outside forces. Acknowledging the connection between your mind and body can help. Intentional breathing is effective, as is simply paying attention to the location of sensations and studying that sensation for a few minutes, noting the intensity, color, shape, weight, etc. Yoga can fit here. Even something as simple as wiggling your toes can connect your mind to your body.

Mindful Eating

Equally as important as the food we eat is the way in which we nourish ourselves. Rather than wolfing down lunch at your desk, give yourself a break and take 5-10 minutes to just eat. Set your fork down between bites. Chew your food before you swallow. Pay attention to how your food feels in your mouth and what your body is physically doing to have you be able to “eat.” Eating in this manner, you are giving your mind something tangible to focus on and thereby giving it a break. You will likely be more productive than eating at your desk.

Daily Gratitude

At the start or end of your day, spend a few minutes thinking or writing, about what you are grateful for in the moment. Name three things off the top of your head – coffee, bagel, shower. You don’t need to delve deeper (unless you want to), but work on switching it up every day.

Be in Nature

Nature can be magical if you pay attention. Find a place where you can escape to, and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Even a 15-minute sit on a park bench or a walk down the block can bring you the appreciation of being free of whatever you are typically tethered to. The end goal of mindfulness is to have you be present in the moment you are in, to be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they happen and to accept them without judgment. Doing so better equips you to be intentional about your actions and reactions.

Career Navigation: In-House Counsel and Law Firm Reentry

In the past, once a lawyer went in-house, there was virtually no going back. That is no longer the case. Law firm employers realize that in-house attorneys often have credentials, sophistication, leadership, practice experience and demanding work schedules that are desirable to the law firm practice. Corporate counsels also often bring valuable connections and business insight supporting the law firm client development initiatives. Although there might be an attraction by law firms to hire in-house lawyers, you still need to prepare so you land in the right spot for your next career step. Here are a few strategies to assist your preparation in law firm re-entry. 

No. 1 – Identify prospective employer’s current needs in the marketplace.

Which firms have or are seeking to grow a practice area in the industry in which you have been working? 

No. 2 – Working your network.

Connect with former law firm colleagues, mentors and classmates. Some of these people may be in positions or have connections at the firms you identified as potentials.

Note: One more reason why you want to avoid burning bridges as you make career transitions and progressions. 

No. 3 – Commitment to traditional practice.

Be prepared to explain why you have an interest in a law firm environment again. This might include discussing how you have seen both sides and know that your next career step is in a law firm to use the industry expertise and the transferable skills you have honed. You may also discuss a more mature attitude and appreciation for the law firm practice in regard to relative security, daily interactions with other lawyers, interesting and sophisticated work with a variety of clients, training opportunities, support and use of established business connections. 

No. 4 – Explain transitions.

It is often useful to know for yourself and be able to explain why you went in-house in the first place with details such as, what you were hoping to gain, that you achieved it and you are ready for this next step.

Note: Frequently a myth yet, hidden question with a prospective employer is wondering whether you left private practice for an in-house role because you couldn’t “cut it” in the law firm environment. For example, you wanted less hours, didn’t want to work so hard, couldn’t establish client relationships or were not technically sound in your legal skill.

No.5 – Transferable skills.

Your in-house experience has given you transferable and value-added skills. Describe how you have honed skills, such as multitasking, working with urgency, taking risks to support a business initiative, which demonstrates business acumen. In addition to your legal abilities, you understand organizational dynamics and have deep industry knowledge and connections. Be prepared to discuss how your skill, experience and perspective can benefit the law firm and its clients. 

No. 6 – Better-rounded.

Show how you are a better-rounded lawyer due to meeting the varied legal requirements of a business enterprise in a specific industry. Be prepared to showcase how your acquired knowledge and abilities, such as hands-on running of deals, negotiating and documenting agreements, advising a business on navigating risks to accomplish an initiative in a specific industry can benefit the law firm and its clients.

Note: There is often a concern that a lawyer in a small or start-up company receives little to no training during their tenure in-house, especially if one is a junior lawyer while in-house. 

No. 7 – Show you are prepared to take action.

Craft an effective business development plan. Prospective law firm employers often expect a more seasoned lawyer to grow a client base in relatively short order. This plan would include potential opportunities to bring in work from your current and past in-house organizations where you worked, as well as other like-industry organizations where you can leverage your knowledge, expertise and connections. Your plan would also include your former business colleagues who have moved to other organizations. 

No. 8 – Creative options.

Be willing to demonstrate flexibility in the transitional relationship in regard to title, department, practice area and compensation. A short-term compromise can yield a long-term gain for both parties. 

Although a stint in-house no longer precludes law firm re-entry, it can provide additional challenges. Be prepared by keeping these considerations in mind as you plan your next career move and you will increase your effectiveness in securing the position you want.

Career Navigation: Questions to help you attract your ideal clients

When you know what your ideal client looks like, it is much easier to create business development plans and messages that will truly resonate.  Here are a few questions that will help you determine who your ideal clients really are.

If someone were to ask who your ideal client is, you might jokingly respond, “anyone with a wallet,” but most lawyers know there are real dangers associated with trying to be all things to all people.  No firm or lawyer excels at everything. When you are not clear on what you do best, and thus whom you are best equipped to work for, you actually do yourself a big disservice. Your identity and your marketing message get so diluted that they don’t resonate with anyone.

That is why it is essential for lawyers to have a clear mental picture of their ideal client.

The more you zero in on precisely the type of client you want, the greater the likelihood you will attract precisely that person.  The world is overloaded with marketing messages, and one of the most difficult challenges we face is getting our message heard. The more your prospect sees a reflection of themselves in you, your web presence, your messages, the more they will pay attention to what you have to offer.

Here are actionable strategies and real-world wisdom to help lawyers set up a successful, sustainable niche business development plan.  The way to identify your ideal prospect and to develop your strategy to appeal to them is through a series of questions. Here are a few of the most important questions you can ask and answer:

  1. What fear or anxiety keeps my ideal client awake at night?  

Start by considering the age, gender, income level, and location of your ideal client.  What are the three greatest frustrations of your ideal client? The key to this exercise is specificity.  Try to drill down on what the biggest frustrations are for this individual. We have all had those terrible nights where we wake up at three AM in terror about something that might occur.  A common “fear” for a lawyer at this stage is to feel that if you decide on one group or another, you are eliminating part of your potential market. At this stage, you want to create a mental avatar, a true representation of your client.  If you operate in several niche markets or practice areas, you want to do this exercise with each one. By having a clear focus, you can still choose to accept additional side business that will come your way.

  1. What are their biggest wishes?  

If your ideal client had a magic wand, how would they use it?  What ideal outcomes or benefits are they looking for? When you talk about benefits, you appeal to your prospects’ emotions.  As the old marketing saying goes, people make their buying decisions on emotions and justify them with facts.

  1. What keywords relate to their number one problem?  

When you know what keywords your ideal clients use, you will know what keywords to include in your own marketing messages.  In doing so, you hugely improve your chances of getting in front of the right people, online, in print and in person.

  1. What do they need to believe you can do?

In their eyes, what are the factors that will contribute to their ability to meet their goals, initiatives, enjoyment of work and life?  Are you communicating that you can help them with those factors?  

  1. What do they wrongly believe?

This is a good angle to consider because when you know what myth your ideal clients have bought into, you can present yourself as a credible expert who can set them straight. 

  1. Why would they not invest in a relationship with you?

They might think your prices are too high.  They might be loyal to the firm in which they are currently working.  When you have considered why they wouldn’t go with you, you can figure out how to mitigate those objections.  

  1. What is their biggest obstacle?

If you can show that you can help your ideal client overcome their obstacle, it will be difficult for them to not work with you.

In order to create marketing materials that will motivate your prospects to engage with you and to take action, you need to have a very clear vision of who they are, of their fears, hopes and aspirations.  This is true regardless of what services you are selling to individuals or to businesses.  The best way to get a clear picture of who your ideal clients are is to carefully answer these questions.  It’s an exercise that will greatly impact and improve your business development efforts.