Managing With The Right Mindset: Why Lawyers Should Get Off Their Laurels

Undoubtedly, the U.S. military teaches its members valiant skills of commitment, loyalty, and leadership. Although few service men andwomen will actually work up to true leadership ranks, the desire to achieve greatness for oneself, one’s family, and one’s country is still evident in every enlisted person.

Even within the military, however, successful leaders arenot all defined in the same way.

Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck,author of Mindset: The New Psychology ofSuccess differentiates two types of leaders, those with a “growthmindset” and others with a “fixed mindset.” Ex-superintendent ofthe U.S. Naval Academy, John R. Ryan, asks readers of Bloomberg Businessweek,“What’s your leadership mindset?” in reference to Ms. Dweck’s two types.

In the field of law, a similar question can be asked of firmpartners and administrators, “What is your managing mindset?”

A leading lawyer with a “fixed mindset” believes in his orher own natural talent. It’s possible to argue that leaders with a fixed mindsetare driven by their own egos and cower in front of difficult challenges for fear of failure. These leaders are only willing to go as far as they believe their mind and intelligence will take them.

Attorneys who manage with a “growth mindset”, on the other hand, believe more in their untapped potential than their exhibited one. These leaders are willing to work toward self-improvement and are eager to hone their skills and mental acuity through continued, arduous practice over time.

Convention and cliché would have us believe that most lawyers lay in the former category of fixed mindsets—attorneys who insist the combination of a killer instinct and law school will lead to success.

Find out what type of leader you are by asking yourself thesame three questions Mr. Ryan posed to the business community.

1. How effectively are you managing your organization’s talent?

“In the rush to get things done, especially during a severe recession, it’s tempting to single out your top 10% for development and forget about everyone else. But from the standpoint of a growth mindset, you’re letting a lot of potential throughout your organization go untouched,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

For law firms, this is an especially poignant idea in termsof tapping into the potential of first-year associates. Invest in human capital. Train your new associates and accept that there will be a slightly slower learning curve.

In a recession, it often seems like your firm can’t afford mistakes. But, investing in young employees now—providing them with theexperience and skills necessary to succeed down the road—will guarantee yourfirm stays as strong as its weakest (or not so much) legal link.

2. Does your organizational culture permit risk taking and mistakes?

“We of course don’t want the kind of egregious mistakes andcompletely irresponsible gambles that helped lead to our current economiccrisis. But innovation does require making some strategic bets, some of which will pay off and some of which will fail,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

Proactive strategies—especially in a recession—are vital inincreasing and sustaining your bottom line. These days it’s common to hear administrators say, “We can’t afford that right now.” But, if not now, will your firm still have a future in which it can implement needed change?

Investing in technology, despite high costs, will save the firm both time and money via increased productivity. Offering clients alternative billing arrangements may seem costly today, but not when you consider the long-term client retention ramifications.

Finally, if you implement a change and it fails, these mistakes are crucial to future growth financially as a firm and personally as a manager. Don’t let your fear of failure allow your firm to meet its ironic, non-innovative end.

3. Are you resting onyour laurels as a leader?

“It can be hard to stay hungry over time. The more experience you gain and the more successes you have, the more likely you are to believe there’s not much left to learn,” writes Mr. Ryan for Bloomberg.

Be an action-oriented leader. Law firm managers should investin their associates, accept and learn from their mistakes, and ensure—whether you believe in the natural talents of others or their general ability to adaptand learn— that every employee’s mindset is focused on the next, new idea to improve firm practices.

-WB

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