As a law firm manager or managing attorney, it’s easy to subscribe to Machiavelli’s maxim, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
Still, you can’t help but notice subordinates asking to be transferred to different cases and off your docket. So what’s the problem?
1. You’re a micromanager.
You weren’t involved in the hiring process. In your opinion, not all attorneys are created equal. As such, it’s important to keep an eye on those you perceive to be underperforming.
Wrong. You’d be hard pressed to find any publication, journal, or credible source that confirms micromanaging improves performance. Instead, micromanaging puts unneeded pressure on associates, highly qualified or not.
In addition, micromanaging wastes time—both yours and that of your subordinates. Instead of stopping by the office of Mr. First-Year Esquire every hour on the hour, try setting deadlines.
If you’re anxious to know the progress of a project, ask your associates to send you a weekly memo or report, as needed. Each time you pick up the phone to check-up, you’ve essentially checked out any possibility to create a professional relationship of trust.
When your employees sense they don’t have your trust, it breeds contempt.
2. You play favorites.
Josephine sends you flawless draft fillings, Johnny does not. As a manager, it’s hard not to appreciate one employee more than another, based solely on work product and past experience.
However, “success is not counted by how high you have climbed but by how many people you brought with you.” As a leader, it’s your job to praise over-performing employees and aid underperforming ones.
When you reward one associate with more complicated assignments and year-end bonuses while constantly criticizing and rebuking another (merited or not), this behavior is often mistook as favoritism.
Don’t pit your associates against one another. In the hallways and during happy hour, separate an employee’s work product from your personal interaction. Speak with your subordinates equally and cheerfully in and out of the office.
Implement periodic performance reviews that give each employee points for improvement. The formal review process—whether implemented bi-annually or after each project conclusion—is the moment for open and honest appraisal, not the day-to-day.
3. You’re grumpy.
Do you find you’re never satisfied with work product? Are you gruff on the phone? Do you lose your temper when small errors are made? Have you been known to swear or yell (even if aimed at yourself)?
In a recent poll, the number one irritant in the office place was cited as temperamental workmates. If you answered “yes” to one of the questions above, it’s a sign you may be the office grump.
True, law firm environments are stressful. But, there’s no excuse for making people around you miserable.
If you’ve spent months with a closed-door policy, distanced yourself from staff and associates, and generally noticed fear in the eyes of all who work with you, it’s time for a vacation
4. You’re an opportunist.
Machivelli gives advice about opportunism to leaders. He says, “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”
However, the above advice does not mean take advantage of your position to take credit for associates’ good work and blame associates for collective wrongs.
If your subordinates hate you, it’s likely because they don’t believe you give credit where credit’s due.
So, express your gratitude, from time to time, to associates who give superior work. Although the leader is often the lynchpin of successful teams, it’s important to acknowledge the individual efforts—large or small—that allowed you to get to the top.
In the end, your subordinates may still fear you. But, at least you’ve given them ample reasons to love you, too.