It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. – Warren Buffet
In my professional experience, no attribute is more important for the leader seeking to turn around a law firm than trust.
In a Forbes article by David Horsager, the author eloquently articulates it. “Among all the attributes of the greatest leaders of our time, one stands above the rest: They are all highly trusted. You can have a compelling vision, rock-solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative insight, and a skilled team, but if people don’t trust you, you will never get the results you want. Leaders who inspire trust garner better output, morale, retention, innovation, loyalty, and revenue, while mistrust fosters skepticism, frustration, low productivity, lost sales, and turnover. Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing.”
Horsager’s perspective is spot-on. Without trust, the hope of successfully leading a law firm turnaround is nil. The question is — how does a leader gain the trust of a firm.
In my work, I have only seen leaders earn trust when words and deeds align. This means three things:
1. Taking action. A law firm in transition needs a leader that will make decisions and then do what is necessary to drive change.
2. Communicating. Effective leaders communicate intentions (plans) and accomplishments.
3. Acting in the long-term interest of the firm. Extraordinary leadership transcends personal interest, political motives and a focus on the short-term.
The Upside of Fresh Vision
Most organizations facing the need for a turnaround or restructure determine it is wise to begin the effort with a new leader. Too often existing leadership is tied to the issues that brought about the firm’s decline; credibility often demands change. But recognizing the need is one thing; finding an individual that can lead from a position of trust can be difficult.
This article, “Why Trust is the New Core of Leadership,” provides insights into the makeup of a trusted leader, and offers the following behaviors as consistent with such a person:
• They themselves will be skilled at trusting, because trusting and trustworthiness enhance each other
• They will be good at collaboration and skilled in using the tools of influence
• They will operate from a clear set of values and principles, because opportunistic or selfish motives are clearly seen and rejected
• They are likely to be more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated, and more likely to use intrinsic motivations with others
• They will not be dependent on direct authority or political power.
Where Has The Trust Gone
Trust in our leaders may be at an all time low. It seems that every other day we read of a leader violating confidence. From Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to the U.S. Congress; from Bernie Madoff to those who watched over the demise of Dewey LeBoeuf –skepticism, if not cynicism of those who aspire to positions of leadership is difficult to overstate.
By contrast, Stephen Covey offers 13 Behaviors of a High-Trust Leader
2. Demonstrate Respect
3. Create Transparency
4. Right Wrongs
5. Show Loyalty
6. Deliver Results
7. Get Better
8. Confront Reality
9. Clarify Expectation
10. Practice Accountability
11. Listen First
12. Keep Commitments
13. Extend Trust
Outstanding organizations – those best equipped to adapt, change and survive, even in turbulent times, have trusted individuals leading the way.
How would you say the profession is doing when it comes to developing law firm leadership with the qualities necessary to lead appropriate change?