Posted by: johnocunningham | May 30, 2012

Leadership and Communications – What Is Required

Law firms and other professional services groups are just now starting to tackle the critical need for executive leadership and communications. For years, professional service firms have operated each as a house for independent franchisees (the professionals) without consideration toward organizational unity, consistency, efficiency or strategic planning, which all rely upon effective leadership and communication.

That paradigm worked well as long as clients did not question bills and the competition all acted alike.

But now, times are different. Some firms, with dynamic leadership, such as Reed Smith and Bingham McCutchen, are thriving; while others – such as Howrey Simon and Dewey & LeBoeuf – have imploded under their own weight.

What kind of leadership and communication is necessary within firms and within practice groups to make a firm thrive instead of dive?

It is the kind of leadership that understands that people are the greatest asset of any organization, particularly a knowledge-based organization that trades on its intellectual capital. This is the kind of leadership that knows how to unlock the potential, the enthusiasm and the energy of its people at all levels. It is the kind of leadership that communicates this both in words and in actions.

Service firm leaders would be wise to heed the words of the late H.S. Mackenzie Burns, the incredibly successful former President of Shell Oil, who famously said: “Take care of those who work for you and you will float to greatness on their achievements.” Burns, a geophysicist by training, helped Shell Oil to grow from its modest beginnings (around 1900) to the 2d largest revenue producer in the world. He pressed for Shell to become the first company to use computers in the early 50’s, pioneered oil and mineral exploration in Africa, Asia and Scandinavia, and created a culture that inspired and empowered employees to reach higher. Burns was lauded as a great communicator, but the emphasis of his message was always about others and not himself.

Professional service firms have some incredibly bright and energetic people in their houses – now they just need to figure out how to make the most of their talents, and help them to reach their maximum potential. That begins with great leadership and the right kind of communication. More to come on those points later on this blog.



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