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Positive Leadership and Partner Retention

I spent the last few days of my vacation with a relative in a hospice home. The facility itself was quiet, but within earshot of a neighboring noisy Montessori school only a few yards away.  The children laughed and screamed loudly on the playground in a melee of activity.  This really bothered me. Couldn’t the teaching staff show some courtesy by at least trying to keep the noise down?

I then noticed that all the windows and doors of the hospice home were propped open, especially those that were facing the Montessori school. I saw that even some guests were sitting outside of their rooms, quietly watching and listening to the noisy playful children.

It then became apparent to me that these loud happy sounds were not damaging, but nurturing. Either through divine intervention or very bad zoning, the relationship between these two facilities grew into a symbiotic balance of healing and harmony, with the Montessori school doling out generous doses of energy and power to the guests in the hospice home.

We all affect each other in our relationships, especially in a closely-knit workplace environment like a law firm.  A law firm is a fragile structure and is nothing more than a collective of peers held together by conditional promises to each other. They are hypersensitive and, as a leader, you affect the mood and the emotional state of the team.

Do you ever wonder why there is churn in your firm? Have you built up what is considered a world-class office, but are still surprised when partners depart to go to other firms with seemingly inferior platforms? It could be a subtle tell or indication that the leadership of the office must improve. On a very personal level, you possess the potential to create a synergistic balance of harmony.  Partners leave for all sorts of reasons, but if it’s because of a lack of trust (or what some call ‘culture’), then that responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the firm’s leadership. But the good news is that this can be improved over time when the leadership realizes they need to change and are committed to doing so. But it takes time, energy and deliberate effort.

Recently I was talking with a prospective lateral who wanted to leave her firm very badly. She told me how the firm’s leadership rarely shared positive comments with the partnership. “They never know how much this negativity influences all of us.  And now they wonder why morale is so bad over there.”

If you are in a position of leadership, whether it is by title, position, or because of the political capital you have earned within your firm, then you have been given a heavy and serious responsibility. Here are three ways to positively influence the culture of your firm and the partners within it. Remember, as a partner-level legal recruiter, I talk to partners every day to discuss their motivations to move. I hear partners complain frequently about why they are open to leaving firms, and often it is because of the firm’s leadership.

1) Catch people doing something right. It can be a spontaneous and verbal recognition of their effort, or you can do it at your partnership retreat or during your monthly conference calls.  Either way, you can harness the power of influence to shape the premises of what is accepted as strong performance.

If your organization has the ability, put these awards and stories in an internal newsletter or an innovative podcast format to distribute to partners and associates. Interview them and create an audio library of achievement and best practices within your firm that people can access via mobile devices when commuting. This doubles as a training moment, and also inspires colleagues and younger associates to stretch beyond their reach. It may even help them to feel connected to colleagues in far away offices. Audio programs add an emotional context to the experience because they can be more personal and more human, more than the written word.

2) Keep a positive and optimistic outlook.  Your mood is the thermostat of the team’s attitude. Everyone looks to you to see how they should gauge it. If your firm faces a grave situation, stay encouraging and offer hope with empathy to your colleagues and co-workers.  Hope always exists in everything.  It’s up to you to find it, look through that lens of hope, and share it with everyone else.

3) Understand how much power your personal influence really carries. A subtle rolling of the eyes, a careless word or a rude remark can be demoralizing. Don’t talk negatively about colleagues or even recently departed partners. In today’s world of social media, personal interactions have become more meaningful. Leadership is intensely personal and each interaction is powerful.  Each contact that you have with a member of your team will either add value to or detract from the interdependent nature of your relationship.

The entire culture of your organization can be shaped and molded through your power that you carry as a leader, and in many ways your personal influence can offer healing and hope.  Be intentional and deliberate to influence your team in a positive manner, and if you do, then you will be giving those partners who are contemplating a move one more big reason to consider staying.

Copyright © 2013 Scott Love

Scott Love grows law firms and accelerates attorney careers by facilitating law firm mergers and conducting partner-level recruiting for law firms. He has been a career ‘headhunter’ since 1995 and is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy. Scott lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, two children, and a toothless rescue dog named Smoky. He can be reached at 202-737-5555. To learn more, please visit www.attorneysearchgroup.com.