THIS WEEKEND, while teaching at my Indispensable Trusted Advisor Insiders’ Conference in Florida, I spoke with a group of women solos who are in the process of transforming into CEOs of their own high-impact, high-revenue-generating firms about the importance of creating the best teams for their businesses—and in stepping firmly into leadership roles.
In so doing, I referred to the work of Brian Tracy. Tracy is a bestselling author and world-renowned management training consultant who is perhaps best known for his book “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.”
In our discussion, I referenced another Tracy book “Delegation and Supervision,” and the three qualities of “best bosses.” Tracy says the three qualities of best bosses, based on a survey of employees, are:
- Consideration. The best bosses are bosses who care about their employees as people first—they know who their families are, including the names of their children, and they appreciate the needs of those families.
- Clarity. The best bosses are those who communicate clearly about what is to be done, who is to do it, and to what standard.
- Give freedom to do the job. Once the job is assigned, the best bosses get out of the way and give the employee freedom to get the job done.
After sharing this information with the women in the room, I asked each of them which they felt were their strengths and which they struggled with the most.
Almost across the board, they each said “consideration” was their strength and “clarity” or “freedom to do the job” (a/k/a “micromanaging”) was their struggle.
This did not surprise me. In my experience in working with women entrepreneurs over the past five years, time and time again, I’ve encountered women who have been challenged to grow their practices precisely because they are so good at number one on this list!
Women, as a general rule, are taught to be nurturers and to put the needs of others before our own. We are taught to be “collaborative,” “inclusive” and “team players.” All of these are wonderful traits—until it is time to lead.
At that point, we need to add to our skill set. That doesn’t mean we need to stop caring about other people, but what it does mean is we may need to create some new rules for ourselves and our businesses.
If you want to be a successful CEO of your own law practice, and to cultivate, lead and manage a loyal team to support you, here are some skills you must develop:
- Decisiveness. You must begin with knowing what you do want and what you don’t want and being clear in your own mind about that. You cannot set clear expectations for others if you cannot first make decisions for yourself. Now, you may think this is an obvious statement, but you might be surprised how many conversations I have had with women solos who find the constant barrage of decision-making in their business to be exhausting and a significant challenge. CEOs are faced with hundreds of decisions a day—some important, some not so important. The key to success is quickly determining which of those decisions require our attention and which do not. The pitfalls are thinking every decision: a) is important, b) must be made at once, c) must be made by us instead of delegated to our team or someone else, d) must be analyzed to death before it can be made, and/or e) must be perfect (that the world will end if we get it wrong). Effective CEOs are very good at making good decisions, quickly. Not perfect decisions. Good decisions. Your thoughts will become clearer when you learn to shut out the noise of everyone else’s opinions. The more decisions you make for yourself, without asking the opinion of everyone you meet, the better you will get at it, and the faster you will become at making decisions. Does that mean you should never consult with advisors and wise counsel? Of course not, but remember you are wise, too. Learn to trust your own inner wisdom. Remember, too, that not everyone you meet is wise. And even if they are, they may not know what is best for you and your business because they may not have the insiders’ knowledge that you have. There’s a placard on my desk that reads: “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” It’s a reminder that sometimes, all we need to do is get still, get quiet for a moment, and look inward to get the answers we need to make our best decisions.
- Clear communication about expectations. It’s not uncommon for women bosses to communicate with other women about what they want as though they are asking for a favor. Women often get into this habit because they want other women to like them, are afraid of being called a “bitch,” or want to be friends with their employees. Because we were raised to be “considerate,” we may be hesitant to communicate our needs directly. However, when we fall into this trap, we do everyone a disservice—not only ourselves and our employees, but our clients, our families and our employees’ families. You see, it is our primary function as the CEO of our firms to keep the doors open for business and to ensure the business turns a profit. The more profitable the business, the better we’ll be able to support the families that depend on it. The clearer we are about our expectations of what is to be done to be profitable, who is to do it, and to what standard, the happier the clients will be and the more successful the firm will be. When we let our fear of not being liked encroach on our role of running the company, then we have a serious problem. Does that mean we need to be mean or rude? Of course not. That’s where skill-development comes into play. Learning to be firm, direct and, yet, still personable, professional, even kind, is a skill, not a magical gift that is bestowed only on a lucky few. If others can learn it, you can, too.
- Letting go of perfectionism. You can choose to obsess over every detail, and if you choose to do that there is no need to make yourself wrong for it. However, remember that all details are not created equal. Every detail in your life is not a critical one requiring your personal attention. If you want to grow personally and if you want to grow your business, you’ll need to be intentional about the choices you are making when you are obsessing over details trying to get whatever it is “perfect.” Take a step back and consider for a moment whether a misplaced comma or one typo will change the outcome of the case. Now, consider whether the extra two hours you spent on a project that should have only taken you one hour of billable time, multiplied by X number of cases over the course of one year could make all the difference in the growth of your firm. Perfectionism hides in numerous places and it sabotages our success over time without our realizing it because it accounts for thousands of lost hours, hundreds of unmade or untimely decisions because of analysis paralysis, and dozens of ruined relationships with people who could be our best allies—the employees we micromanage because we can’t let go and trust them to do the jobs for which they were hired.
Of course, there are many other leadership and management skills you’ll want to develop as you grow into being the CEO of your own law firm. Know that you don’t need to be the “best boss” right out of the gate. Start with just being a boss. Hire your first employee, work on developing these three skills, and trust yourself. You’ve got this!