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I’ve always admired successful organizations and leaders who can accomplish great things, especially when faced with daunting challenges. Leaders who rise to a challenge and rally their troops are respected and revered by their teams and stakeholders. Look no further than Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, who is currently the world’s most admired leader. His now-famous statement, “I need ammunition, not a ride,” portrays the embodiment of what we look for in a leader. He loves his people. He’s willing to not only fight for them, but with them. He’s not looking for a way out of an extremely tough, some might say unwinnable, situation. On the contrary, he’s running into the battle, the war, and basically scoffing at those who would suggest he do anything else. It’s no wonder his people, and much of the world, are fully behind him.
Zelensky is owning a problem he didn’t cause and definitely didn’t ask for. Make no mistake, his vision of leading his country likely did not include dealing with an invasion and navigating his people through what will surely go down as one of Ukraine’s most pivotal moments in history. But he’s embraced the responsibility and is standing firm in the midst of missiles, bombs, chaos, and invasion.
I’m sure if you asked Zelensky whose problem this war is, he wouldn’t miss a beat and his answer would be, “This war is my problem.”
A powerful perspective and one every leader should embrace. No matter what is going on in your organization, it’s a leadership problem, and that means it’s your problem. I believe every problem is a leadership problem. That’s because the leader should bear, and in fact embrace, the responsibility for every single thing that happens in their organization.
Were you the one who forgot to call that client back? No, but it’s your problem. Was it you who failed to spot that key piece of evidence that would have added ten grand to the value of Mrs. Smith’s case? No, but it’s your problem. Did the message not make it from the receptionist to the paralegal, the new attorney not follow the disbursement protocol, or did the toilet paper run out in the client’s bathroom as a result of your direct failure? No, no, and no. But they’re all your problems because you’re the leader of the firm.
As leaders, we must take ownership of every detail. At the end of the day, everything that happens is under our influence. We either ordered it, coached it, or allowed it. Before you get worked up and go on a termination spree, I’ll also add that the answer to most problems in an underperforming firm is usually not for the leader to crack down on the team and demand higher performance. In my experience leading, consulting, and observing law firms over the last decade, the first and biggest problem is usually staring at me from the other side of the mirror.
When I see (or am leading) a broken firm, it’s rarely due to a bad team. In fact, it’s usually not about a bad anyone. More often than not it’s a perfect storm of some combination of the following issues:
These issues are rarely the fault of any one member of the team, but, ouch, they are the result of leadership that’s fallen behind the curve. Before we work on the team, we must work on the leader. That’s us.
The amazing news is that when we embrace the belief that every problem is a leadership problem something remarkable happens. When we are willing to hold ourselves ultimately accountable, we are empowered to make healthy, lasting, and successful changes. We stop blaming and we start getting better. We stop seeing the problem as outside of ourselves and start looking for ways to lead better.
If your firm is not where you want it to be, I encourage you to resist the temptation to first see it as an “others” problem. It may in fact be that you have a team problem, but first, become the best leader you can possibly be. Commit yourself to growth. Find an executive coach. Learn best practices and then R&D them…“rip off and duplicate” as Tim McKey says. Surround yourself with other leaders who want to grow. As you get better, so will your team and your firm.
If every problem is a leadership problem it also follows that there’s a life and firm transforming truth on the other side of the equation:
Every leader can be their own best solution.
Let’s go, grow, and impact countless lives for the better.
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