The Emotionally Intelligent Lawyer

We live in a time of change. Among the most visible changes are globalization, technological advancement and multigenerational workplaces. Similarly, the nature of leadership is also changing. The best new leaders develop and implement the emotional intelligence characteristics of agility, creativity, community and contribution.

In the legal profession, specifically, change is also prevalent: firm mergers are commonplace, lateral movement is at a record high, the lock-step partnership track is being replaced by competency models, and more firms and companies rely on staff attorneys and project attorneys. In this time of change, a key predictor of a good lawyer is emotional intelligence (see, e.g., The Prediction of Professional Effectiveness, Schultz and Zedeck,) versus the GPA. A well-developed emotional intelligence allows a lawyer to more effectively serve clients and more easily adapt to this era’s changes.

The fact that studies have now proven success predictors are linked to emotional intelligence (EQ) versus intellectual intelligence (IQ) is exciting. EQ is something that can be improved and developed. Broadly defined,EQ addresses the emotional, personal, social and survival dimensions of intelligence. For daily functioning, EQ is as important, if not more important, than the traditional cognitive aspects of intelligence. Emotional intelligence is concerned with understanding oneself and others, relating to people and adapting to and coping with your immediate surroundings. Emotional Intelligence is an accurate predictor of success because it reflects how a person applies knowledge to the immediate situation. In a sense, measuring emotional intelligence is similar to measuring common sense– the ability to get along in the world. It is not that IQ is no longer important. Rather IQ with EQ can make you a better lawyer, a stronger leader, give you greater career satisfaction and provide better relationships throughout your life.

Specifically, how is EQ relevant to a lawyer? Knowledge is power. If you are tuned to the emotional, personal, and social ramifications of a situation, you can make better decisions and have greater influence. Similarly, a well-developed EQ improves one’s decision-making while under stress. As a general rule, high stress leads to less effective cognitive function and more irrational decisions. Conversely, a well-developed EQ allows a person to be aware of and tolerate increasing stress levels, and the effects of stress, both on themselves and others. An acute EQ under pressure will increase one’s ability to stay rational, improving access to one’s cognitive thinking (IQ), allowing for better decision making.

It is a certainty that your most successful colleagues rely on emotional intelligence to make decisions, problem solve and strengthen client relationships. Here is a practical three-step process to use EQ to increase your success in developing client relationships.


When asked, “What do you do?” most lawyers simply describe (sometimes in great detail) their practice area. But what the person asking this question (client, prospect, potential hire or board member) really wants to know is “Who are you?” However, you cannot tell people who you are if you haven’t answered this question for yourself first. Clarifying your response to this question is simple, but not easy. It takes understanding yourself, brainstorming, testing with others, practicing, honing the message and then perfecting the answer. You will know you have your answer when it is both genuine for you and the response of the listener will be a follow-up question to know more.


You must be able to describe yourself and your work clearly and concisely. One exercise that may help this process is to consider what three adjectives best describe you and the experience you give clients. The combination of these three adjectives is what makes you unique in the market. This combination of three adjectives also determines why people work with you and which people work best with you. In knowing how to describe yourself, you help people decide whether they want to engage you further and you help yourself determine how, with whom and where to spend your time. Keep in mind that most people don’t really want to hear about how you do what you do. People do want to know, “What can you do for me?” They want to hear about what you have done for others like them. So when asked “What do you do?” be ready to state how you solve problems, fix issues or save the client time or money.


Potential clients, like all people, love a good story. If you want to effectively persuade a potential client to hire you, tell the potential client a good story that is relevant to their issues.

1) Explain how you effectively worked with a similar client.

2) Describe your past successes solving similar problems.

3) Briefly tell the potential client about how you solve those problems. And, above all, the potential client must know how you will make him or her sleep better at night.

Finally, you must take the initiative to move the relationship with the potential client forward. Take action — suggest a next step at a particular time and place. Do not leave the next steps open ended and vague. Don’t wait for the potential client to take the next step. Giving someone direction with time and dates actually triggers a positive comfort response in the brain. Suggested action with a date and time indicates confidence, clarity and accountability. No one seeks out mediocrity. Clients seek solutions. People work with attorneys who instill confidence and trust. Whether you are in private practice or an in-house legal department, a key factor in success is the ability to develop and build effective relationships. Whether one is developing new business, presenting to a board, advancing a career, interviewing, or leading a productive team – one’s success in all of these activities boils down to effective communication, aka interpersonal skills, aka one’s emotional intelligence.

Are You Ready?

The 40-year service anniversary. The 8:00-5:00 daily grind. Climbing the corporate ladder. Are you living the American dream? Are you prepared for your opportunity to live the dream? Thanks to economic factors, technology, political unrest, and the changing attitudes of employers and workers, the employment landscape is evolving at a rapid speed. Organizations of all sizes commonly plan, prepare and adapt for strategic growth to positively impact their bottom line. Individual professionals, however, too often achieve a level of success and then mistakenly take a seat in the waiting room – waiting for their environment to change or someone to trigger their next step of continued growth.

Now is the time to drive your opportunity, your American dream, your destiny. In practical terms this might mean for you, keeping a client, securing a new client, delivering an effective presentation, conducting a successful interview, facilitating a meeting. The point is, all of the disruption happening around us right now is also creating tremendous opportunity. If you are sitting on your haunches, waiting for something to fall in your lap or tap your shoulder, you will be left sitting in the waiting room alone – not because opportunity doesn’t pass by you but because you won’t recognize it when it does.

Follow these simple action steps to create your next opportunity or at the very least recognize when it passes by.

Step 1. Know Thyself.

If you don’t know who you are or what you want, no one else will either. This is your job – not the boss/employer, not the client and not the interviewer. Regularly ask yourself who you are, what is important to you and what you want in your life/profession and then put your responses on paper. Whether it is using a vision board, a notebook, a napkin –your written answers will be your foundation and provide objectivity when you are making decisions such as next job selection, client fi t and association participation.

Practical Use: Increase your effectiveness by 2-5 minutes prior to a meeting. Take some quiet time and on a notepad write down your greatness, your strengths, who you want to be in the meeting. Write each thought three times. Then get up, stand up straight, toss the paper in the trash and go for it!

Step 2. Ask the “Right” Question.

The answers to Step 1 will allow you to identify what is worth asking for so you can then focus on asking the “right” questions. This refers both to the questions you ask yourself, (i.e. What outcome do you want? How are you going to get there? Who are you going to be in the conversation?), and the questions you ask of others. The simple act of asking can build a team, solve complex issues, direct your decision path, create collaboration, identify opportunity, secure new business and make new friends.

Practical Use: In any conversation (client, interview, employee, friend) notice when you are assuming. Assuming is the trigger to know there is another question to be asked. Clarity lies in the answer to the next question.

Step 3. Your Network.

Paul Revere is credited for traveling through the night, announcing the arrival of the British so the Colonies could assemble and defend itself. William Dawes, a second man, traveled further in the opposite direction of Paul and actually talked with a greater number of people. Yet it is Paul’s name we remember. It is said that Paul’s network was more diverse and made up of power players so Paul’s contacts were the start of several webs of people who all spread the word to more people. Paul didn’t do it on his own; he spoke with a few key players in his network who had their own individual networks. What does your network look like? Who is in it – does everyone look like you? How diverse is it? How big of a reach does it have? When you need something, where do you go? Who do you go to? Expand your network by building a variety of circles…work, community organizations, associations/non-profits within your interest areas (religious, sports, animals).

Practical Use: In your chosen circles, demonstrate who you are and what you can do by taking on the challenges or “dirty projects” within those groups. People will begin to know you, experience you and remember you.

We live in a world of opportunity. Living the American dream is still possible. Be on the offensive in your life and career. This is not a dress rehearsal. Be ready now and…

• State: Who you are

• Identify: What I am

• Ask: How can we help each other?

Employment Success with the Pause, Plan, Practice Process

We often hear “Top organizations want to attract top talent.” And, “Top talent wants to work with top organizations.” True enough, yes? I wonder then, what defines TOP? How do you know TOP when you see TOP? Is there a limited number of TOP? With no e-harmony for TOP, how do you connect? How does TOP find each other? Is everything not TOP less than?

We live in a world that is unpredictable, ambiguous, uncertain and many factors, technology being one of them, are demanding that we change faster than our comfort level. I pose that the question more accurately reflecting the wants and needs of organizations and individuals is: 

Who/Where Is Right For The Right Seat At The Right Time?

Jim Collins said it well in “Good to Great” with “right person, right seat.” And, we have evolved to require the addition of “right time.” We said our world is unpredictable and experiencing radical change – in this climate, our organizations and individuals are experiencing the same. What is right for both is not only unique but also changes as fast as everything else. Gone are the days of old definitions of stability, longevity, and loyalty. We are in the days of fluidity, growth, and expansion.

Why is this important? Because with the TOP requests, everyone is looking for the same thing and the same thing is not right for everyone. I have heard for almost 20 years the same comments from organizations and individuals in the hiring or career changing mode. Organizations say, “I want a lawyer from a top law school with top grades working at a top organization.” Individuals say, “I want to work somewhere that appreciates me, where I can have control over my time and make enough money.” The question mistakenly forgotten is “What is right, specifically for you?” In other words – the mating dance for a successful employment connection requires each side to know themselves first. It requires each side to ask of themselves: Who are you? What do you need/want? How will you know it when you see it? Or, I like to say, the pause, plan, practice process to successful employment.


Always going somewhere and yet never being anywhere – sound familiar? Richard Leider claims we have a new epidemic among us, “hurry” sickness. If we are running at high speed while pursuing our career steps or hiring in our organizations, we get the wrong results (“They aren’t doing what I thought they would do when I hired them.” or “This is how I felt in my last position.”) What is the cure? A well-accepted opinion in academic circles is simply to “pause.” This is the first step to employment success – it starts with you. This step is the most forgotten step with organizations and individuals and yet is the most critical. Taking a minute to recognize who you are will determine the outcome you get. Questions to ponder include: What values do you use to make decisions? These are your core values. Identify them and write them down. What are the priorities you are meeting with this position? Write them down. What behaviors do you expect to see? What would you be disappointed to see? Again, write it down. Now, look at it – this is what you are looking for – this applies to an organization looking to fill a position or an individual looking for a career step.


What process are you going to use to find the fit? What questions will you ask? What answers/examples will you give? Who will be involved? What are your strengths? What are your snafus? Your differentiators? Your uniqueness? The mistake organizations commonly make in this step is they try to pull the plan together at the last minute with whoever is available. This mistake can be costly as a weak first impression is lasting and can be the difference between an offer being accepted or declined. For the individual, the common mistake is stopping the plan at the search effort. In other words, once a resume is sent, they stop the proactive role and move into the “go with the flow” of the organization. There is little opportunity to differentiate oneself from a passive position.


Have you ever heard a good speech? How about a good impromptu speech? What do they both have in common? Practice. That’s right. Most good “impromptu” speeches have been rehearsed in some fashion. In an interview situation, both parties know it is going to happen and know what the other will want to know about them. It is not a mystery. Yet, both sides commonly approach an interview like it is an impromptu speech with no rehearsal. You have taken the pause time to figure out who you are and what you need. You have taken your time to plan your questions, answers, approach. The practice step is the opportunity for you to bring all the steps together. A chance for you to get feedback, clarify your messages, match your non-verbals. You waste your time by not doing this simple step.

So, whether you are on the hiring side of the table or the interviewee side of the table – you both want the same thing – to identify the right fit so you can be happy in this dynamic world. That is good. Research has proven time again that if there is happiness in the organization and the individual there is a legal talent management firm that provides cost-effective legal recruiting for culture fit, as well  as communications workshops, team-building exercises, leadership coaching, management training, CLE presentations, and firm and client building programs. As a trusted strategic partner, Jodi helps law firms and legal departments develop a cohesive approach to selection, development and retention of talent, directly impacting the bottom line which is vital to their success. Hundreds of clients across the country rely on Jodi’s expertise. Organizations are different and people are different. Using the pause, plan, practice process will position you in your mating dance, allowing you to identify the match that is right for you right now.

References – The Secret Weapon to Career Success

References – please submit your references. Do you have any references? How many times have you been asked for references – proposing to a new client, bidding on an RFP, interviewing for a new job, applying for membership or a board seat. We all get the same question, but our reaction to the question makes all the difference. References can make you, break you or keep you in neutral. In this hypercompetitive, constantly evolving environment, find out how to make references your secret weapon in achieving career success.

What a Difference a Reference Can Make.

There are three kinds of references: Make You, Break You and Keeping You in Neutral.

References that MAKE YOU

This reference happily reports his or her experience working with you and provides detailed examples which also meet the requirements of the new position or project you are seeking.

It is not enough for a positive reference to simply know who you are when someone calls on your behalf. Make You references are those that can speak to specific examples of performance, the difference you made or a success you contributed to. They are the

references that can share a story demonstrating who you are in the workplace. They create the confirmation that your interview process has already established, and give the extra push employers need to want to hire you.

References that BREAK YOU

This reference either merely confirms your dates of employment, title and compensation, or worse, this reference remembers working with you for all of the wrong reasons – and

boy, do they remember every detail of working with you! OK, everyone thinks: “Who would give out a reference that wouldn’t say good things about you?” Guess what – it happens, especially in the Midwest where passive aggressive communication is common. To your face someone may say, “Sure, I will be a reference for you,” but then when the call comes, and pressed with “Off the record, tell me how it really was working with them,” they do tell, but with selective memory. Our perceptions are powerful and while good experiences become better, bad experiences become worse. Much worse.

References that Keep You in NEUTRAL

This reference confirms you did the job. It was fine, but unremarkable. Sure, they’d work with you again, but you’re somewhat fungible. These are the standard, “everyone gets the same response, we are going through the motions and checking off our to-do list” references. They don’t forward your candidacy and they don’t necessarily hurt your candidacy. But consider whether they are a missed opportunity – could a Make You reference have been provided instead?

Your job in compiling a reference list is to determine who will be your best cheerleaders. Realistically consider whether a potential reference is actually good or merely neutral, and confirm you aren’t providing any Break You references.

Preparing MAKE YOU References

When employers or potential clients ask for references, they are primarily asking about two basic characteristics:

1. substantive and technical ability – do you have the hard skills, knowledge or expertise for the job

2. organizational “fit” – the soft skills – are you good to work with as defined by that organization’s culture, values, etc.

When evaluating a potential reference, applicants should consider who in their professional lives can speak both to their expertise and to their interpersonal skills. This group can include current and former supervisors, peers and clients. Others sources are volunteer or community groups where you have a significant responsibility, like a seat on a charity’s board of directors. In all instances, employers want to hear stories about your performance, how you helped achieve a difficult goal, met or beat a deadline, managed challenging personalities, and yet were always pleasant to work with.

Ask First; Plant the Seed. Once you identify a list of Make You references, confirm a reference’s willingness to serve – yes, you have to ask them! This highlights the upcoming change and weeds out potential Break You references. That said, the best time to ask for a reference is before you need it, following the close of a successful project. When you ask later for a specific opportunity, it is easier to say yes again.

Prime the Pump. Lawyers are good at asking leading questions; this is the perfect time to employ that skill. It is critical to prepare your reference for the questions he or she is likely to be asked by the employer. You also want to identify the exact traits you want them to advertise about you, specifically tailored to the job you are seeking. They may have plenty of stories about you, but you want them to share the right stories for this opportunity. “Bob, remember when we worked an all-nighter to get that brief done? You told me you really valued my persistence and attention to detail.” Remind them of the stories you want them to share – it makes it easier for them to take the inevitable call and helps shape that conversation in a beneficial manner.

Presentation Matters. Don’t just email a list of names and numbers. Frame the contact information so it is easily digestible, perhaps as a direct response to an interview question. “I have provided Bob Harper’s phone and email. We worked on a challenging litigation matter where my persistence and attention to detail really paid off.”

Return the Favor. If it makes sense, offer to serve as a reference for your reference.

The Power of Breathing

Did you know that you can increase your personal effectiveness by simply increasing your breath awareness? Research shows that the average person wastes 5 1⁄2 hours a week due to unclear communication. Research has also linked breathing with increased influence, confidence, presence … all leading to career advancement.

If you’ve ever breathed a sigh of relief or gasped in pain, you know that even our language recognizes a close connection between the way we breathe and how we feel.

In fact, when you understand how respiration interacts with your mood, you can train your breathing to help you handle your emotions. The right breathing technique can calm you when you’re feeling tense, enable you to really focus on a task or keep you from blowing up at someone. It can also help dramatically change the way you sound, since breathing patterns are the foundation of vocal production.

You experience this powerful mood and breathing connection every time you get highly emotional. When you’re depressed or sad, your breathing tends to be very shallow with frequent sighs. When you’re feeling anxious, frightened or angry, you unconsciously have pauses of varying length between your breaths, or even hold your breath.

Athletes, martial arts practitioners and singers all know that breathing is the key to physical performance. The way we breathe – whether it’s short, shallow breaths through the chest or deep, slow breaths from the diaphragm – directly communicates with the powerful vagus nerve that runs through the chest cavity up to the brain. The vagus is linked to nerve receptors in the lungs, and is connected to the limbic center in the brain, which controls our emotional reactions. Making your breathing calm and steady, instead of shallow, jerky or full of prolonged pauses, can help make your mind calm and steady and can help you achieve increased relaxation, concentration and vocal control.

If you often feel tense, you may be breathing from your chest rather than from your diaphragm. The diaphragm is the strong, cone-shaped muscle that forms the floor of the chest cavity which helps move oxygen in and out of the lungs. Check your pattern; place your hand on your upper chest. If it rises when you inhale and contracts when you exhale, you’re chest breathing.

This type of breathing pattern is very common, and less effective. It gets in huge amounts of air at once and activates the fight-or-flight alarm reaction – good in an emergency but not otherwise helpful. If you chest breathe regularly, you keep your body in a state of chronic stress. Chest breathing fills only the upper lungs, where oxygen-absorbing blood cells are sparse. The result: you breathe faster to meet your body’s oxygen needs and cause the limbic center of the brain to dump stress-related chemicals into the bloodstream, such as adrenaline.

In contrast, diaphragmatic breathing tells the body that everything is calm and alright because air goes into the lower lungs, which are rich in oxygen-extracting blood cells. The vagus nerve, going from the lung to the brain, then transmits a message of relaxation, and you are able to breathe more slowly. The next time you are feeling pressured or stressed, practice this type of breathing.

To breathe from the diaphragm, place one hand on your upper stomach, keeping your entire hand above your belly button. Inhale as if you’re filling a small balloon inside your stomach. Your stomach should gently rise as you inhale (as the diaphragm pushes down to make room for the expanding lungs) and fall as you exhale (as the diaphragm moves up to the lower chest to push the air out of the lungs). Your upper chest and shoulders should stay motionless. Once you’re breathing from the right spot, focus on making your breath as even and steady as possible. You’ll find your tension dissipating within about two breaths. With practice, this skill becomes automatic.

Be aware that at first, this breathing pattern may feel unusual or strange. It may even feel backward to you! If that’s the case, it means you have been chest breathing so long, you’ve forgotten how to belly breathe. If you’ve ever observed a sleeping infant, however, you saw that they innately belly breathe from the diaphragm. That’s how we all begin, but stress causes us to move the breathing pattern up into the chest.

You can further expand your stress-busting expertise by slowing your exhalation. Exhaling slows the pulse rate, when your breathing becomes balanced and even, slow your rate of exhalation until you are breathing out twice as long as you breathe in. Count to six as you exhale and three as you inhale. Do 10 to 20 repetitions of this breathing pattern in meetings, traffic or when otherwise stressed out. The workplace today forces us to over-schedule our lives. Calming your breathing pattern allows you to take time for yourself so you have the resources to deal more effectively with others. Try it today. Increase your breath awareness in meetings, depositions, interviews … and observe how your personal effectiveness increases.

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.