Four Tools to Focus Lawyers on Better Serving the Business

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Continuing my blog series focused on the dedication to the advancement of others, I reached out to numerous GCs across the country for input.  Business leaders are handsomely rewarded for their dedication to the advancement of others, and the GCs I surveyed are no different.  This dedication results in engaged, committed employees who are well-suited to serve the business.  Goals are met, profits are made, top talent is attracted, attrition is stemmed, and successors are groomed. 

What follows is a synthesis of the recommendations shared with me for the topic:

The Most Useful Tools That Have Helped Lawyers
Be Better Prepared to Serve the Business

  1. Broaden your understanding of the overall business. For lawyers to serve the business and earn a seat at the table, they must be experts in the business.  Lawyers should be embedded in the business and should take similar training as other business professionals.  This can include things like webinars given by commercial and technology leaders, in-house seminars, or classroom training.   Take a “Turbines 101” class, a 3-D simulator training, or finance classes.  Attend operations staff meetings, or shadow manufacturing operations/trading floor/executive sessions.   Wear a hardhat and take an in-depth tour of the plant or job site, or take a ride-along with truck drivers. You will not only gain visibility and respect within the organization, but your overall understanding of the business will help you do your job that much more effectively. 
  1. Executive coaching and 360 reviews are invaluable ways to help a high-performing lawyer excel and advance. Many accomplished lawyers are blessed with tremendous strengths that have propelled their careers.  Yet everyone has a blind-spot or shortcoming that will hold them back unless attended to.  Most are either unaware of these or, more likely, are aware but underestimate their importance.  Periodic external coaching provides an irreplaceable objective reality check.  When done right, with input obtained from subordinates, peers, superiors and business clients, and shared anonymously with the individual, the path forward is undeniable.  One of the most powerful tools is for the individual to share the feedback with his/her team and with the peer group in an open session. 
  1. Learn how to communicate and make presentations that are more meaningful to the business. Most lawyers are wed to words.  Most business executives are more responsive to graphs and numbers.  Know your audience and do a better job of creating visuals demonstrating ROI to gain unanimous buy-in.  Slide after slide of text only quickly shifts the focus of the room to cell phones, rather than the presenter.    
  1. Become a better listener. The business wants to know that they have been heard.  Nothing creates strife between business and legal like the business feeling that legal “just isn’t listening.”  The best advice for becoming an effective listener is to put your phone away, unfold your arms, stop talking, and focus on what the other person is saying.  By asking good questions and paraphrasing the conversation back to the business leader, you will gain their trust and appreciation.  Also, being open-minded makes you more approachable.  Be comfortable in “the gray area.”  No one wants to have a conversation with someone who is inflexible and not willing to listen.  One GC recommended the book “Change your Questions, Change your Life” by Marilee Adams to help attorneys to be problem solvers and show a more approachable human touch with the business. 

Next up in my “Advancement of Others” series, I will share the most productive measures that GCs take to prepare lawyers for GC succession.   Always happy to listen to and/or receive your input. 

Topics: Legal   |   Succession Planning

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