Regardless of your level of seniority, building your leadership skills is a great strategy to boost your legal career. But what is the best approach to start developing leadership qualities? We've collated a five-step guide to help you take the first step to boost your leadership abilities for a flourishing legal career.
Reframe your mindset to a leadership mindset
The only way to think like a leader is to act like one. In other words, you need to throw yourself into the deep end and actually take on leadership responsibilities. At first, this can seem uncomfortable - especially for junior lawyers. But there are ways of making this less daunting.
Take Action (and start small)
If you have just started as a lawyer, you might not have direct leadership opportunities, but there are many options for you to practice these skills. If your workplace is organising a team-building day or social activity, then volunteer to be the organiser! You can also sign up for leadership roles at local committees or events. Start small to build up your skills, courage, and confidence.
Mentoring is an excellent way for senior lawyers to develop their leadership skills. Not only is this a perfect opportunity to share your valuable expertise, but it's also a chance to add value to your team. It is a great setting to learn how to adapt your communication style to different personality traits and engage in open-ended conversations.
Small actions like these provide you with the avenue to "test drive" your leadership potential, build up your leadership muscles and grow a leadership mindset.
Don't shy away from conflict
In general, people are often uncomfortable with conflict, and lawyers are no exception. Often this is because they don't have the right tools to deal with conflict effectively. In turn, this can lead to them avoiding situations where they might encounter people with different opinions. However, this does not benefit you, your colleagues, or your law firm in the long haul. So how can you become more comfortable with conflict?
Foster the power of compromise
Instead of fighting over who is right or wrong, your goal should be to compromise. Always ask yourself if there is a way of combining different viewpoints into a better idea or solution.
Focus on the goal, not the person
When we're involved in a conflict at work, it's essential not to take things personally. Always stay clear of any forms of personal attacks and focus on constructive problem-solving.
One of the greatest leadership sins is avoiding conflict. But by building the necessary skills to deal with disagreements head-on, you will be more likely to find better solutions.
Ditch the "me" for the "us"
Whether you find yourself working on complex cases involving multiple stakeholders, are part of a larger legal team, or find yourself involved in cross-functional projects, knowing how to collaborate is an essential legal skill. So what is at the core of being a strong collaborator?
Be clear and concise in your communication
The key to being concise is always to ask yourself, "what is my core message, and how can I communicate it in the easiest way possible?". Answering these questions will help you organise your thoughts and structure your arguments. You can also use the PREP framework. Following the PREP framework means you state your point, provide your reason, back it up with evidence, and lastly, reiterate your point. For example:
- Point: I suggest we take direction A in this case
- Reason: We've received positive feedback about this approach
- Evidence: For instance, many clients support it
- Point: That's why I suggest direction A is the best option
Active listening is at the core of being a great collaborator - and a successful lawyer. You can boost your active listening skills by asking clarifying questions or open-ended questions. Asking questions will ensure that you understand the true meaning of what another person is saying and shed light on any misunderstandings.
Be open about your own challenges
Don't underestimate the power of showing vulnerability. By sharing your experiences of challenges you've overcome, you can help break barriers and open up a valuable exchange of insights between you and your colleagues. You will also seem more accessible, which is invaluable in any collaborative setting.
Create opportunities to think differently
Is creativity necessary to be a successful leader? The answer is a definite yes. Creativity has become one of the most sought-after traits in leaders. Creative leaders can provide innovative solutions to problems, and they know how to inspire their teams to work towards a common goal. You can foster imagination and kickstart creative thinking by creating situations that allow you and your team to think differently.
Organise informal meetings in new settings
The relaxed atmosphere of an informal meeting and being in a new environment is a great way to spark creativity.
Apply design thinking
You can apply design thinking when you plan and structure team meetings. Design thinking is all about putting the "user" in the centre - in other words, your attendees - to make your next meeting more creative and productive.
Go for a walk
A study from Stanford University shows that walking can significantly improve creativity. So why not book a walking meeting or go for a walk during your lunch break?
Don't focus on setbacks
Now more than ever, it's crucial for lawyers and successful leaders alike to build resilience. Not only does resilience help us cope with the pace of an ever-changing world, but it also helps us turn setbacks into opportunities to learn and grow.
Reframe negative thoughts
Thoughts such as "I'm not clever enough" or "I'm not productive enough" are incredibly detrimental to our personal and professional growth. Do this exercise to refocus your energy towards more positive thoughts: before you go to bed tonight, list three things you're grateful for as well as three accomplishments for the day. Positive affirmations are your most powerful tools in boosting your resilience.
Reflecting on your performance is an effective way to give your brain the time to make sense of what is going on because it helps your brain sort through thoughts, observations, and experiences in a meaningful way. The aim is to focus on both your successes and where you may have fallen short. This will enable you to better identify your strengths and weaknesses - and inform your future mindsets and actions.
Being open to feedback is a common trait of people with high resilience - making it an excellent talent for you to foster! By welcoming input from others, you are much more likely to acquire new skills and develop a "learning mindset." In turn, this will prove invaluable in building resilience.
We all start a project or a role with an idea of what it will look like or achieve in the end. But sometimes, we lose track of where it is going. Being purpose-driven will make it easier to see mishaps as temporary setbacks in a larger journey.
Leadership skills encompass much more than just being in charge and delegating. Making a conscious effort to become a better leader - regardless of your seniority - will help you achieve more as a lawyer, enhance your other legal skills and boost your career.
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