© Copyright 2022 Vista Consulting Team. All Rights Reserved.
Chief Operations Officer of Klein Lawyers LLP
in Vancouver, British Columbia
I remember, about as far back as eight years old, always wanting to be a Boss with a capital B. During the summers, I was a self-proclaimed Director of Backyard Operations (DBO). I called ALL the shots, decided who could be where and when, wrote and directed plays, made up games that didn’t make sense to anyone but me, created clean-up procedures that did not involve my participation, and somehow assigned all the “good” jobs to myself (DBO Attitude). I was in my glory. But, as an adult, I can easily see why these days often ended in tears after Jenny B. tried to rewrite my play or because Trevor M. rode his bike over my picnic blanket that I had set up for snack time and thought it was hilarious. Every time, without exception, I ended up alone in my backyard, the Boss of None. It took a few summers like this before I started to understand that there was something I was doing that was driving the other kids away. These days of epic leadership failure became some of the pivotal childhood experiences that defined me as a person and continue to shape me as a leader today.
Fast forward to 2022. I am now in a leadership position in the legal industry in an area of specialty that I love. How did I get here? Not from having a DBO Attitude. My bossy eight-year-old self was not yet emotionally evolved enough to get curious about why I had found myself left alone in my backyard with a chip on my shoulder. At some point, I started observing other people in leadership positions and taking notes. When I was old enough to have actual jobs, I amassed quite an amazing collection of “how NOT to be a leader” stories, from the retail manager I worked with whose favorite catchphrase was “Do as I say, not as I do!” to the two managers who would leave a crew of teenagers alone to run a fast food restaurant late at night while they went to a nightclub. Fortunately, there was one bakery owner I remember as being filled with respect and gratitude for the team working for him. He led with love and had firm boundaries and clear expectations. I have also had the good fortune of taking notes from many legal industry leaders over the last 30 years. From the eight-year-old me to the current (age not specified) me, I have learned some fundamental lessons, some via other leaders and some through good old-fashioned trial and error. The one main lesson I was fortunate enough to learn from my DBO days is that it is not the perceived power that comes with being a boss that is important to me; it is the connection to other people with common goals that gives me energy and purpose. To be a leader, I had to shed the DBO Attitude and start understanding the people with whom I was working. Suppose I’d taken a moment in my DBO days to understand what Jenny B. and Trevor M. needed in my backyard that summer; maybe I would have found great creative collaborators and helpers that would have made me a better DBO. Maybe we would have had more fun. In this blog, we’ll examine some crucial questions every great leader should be asking themselves.
This is the most critical one-word question I ask myself every day. In a leadership role, people are paramount. I have found it well worth investing my time and energy into understanding who I am working with, including the clients, the people on my team, the other leaders I work with, and myself.
Who are you?
We often hear that being a great leader starts with how you motivate the people on your team. That is undoubtedly important, but let’s take it one step further back and say it all starts with YOU. Knowing and being comfortable with your authentic self, ensuring that your role as a leader fulfills you, and keeping a balance between your work and personal life are essential to your ability to motivate others and build trust in a team.
I recommend that any leader, especially those just embarking on their leadership journey, ask themselves these fundamental questions, not just at the beginning of their leadership career but regularly thereafter:
Who is on your team?
If you are moving into a role where you will lead, coach, and/or supervise other people and provide them with feedback, it is essential to know your team members. This does not mean you need to socialize with them extensively, know their zodiac sign, their ex’s bad habits, or their favorite Kardashian. You can care about team members and lead them with positivity without getting too personal. Knowing what is important to your team members and demonstrating that you remember these things will build trust with your team.
Ideally, you want to understand the following things about each person on your team:
It is important to regularly bring your team together, facilitate group discussions, and ensure there is synergy on the team. Leaders should see themselves as part of the team with a role that is equally as important as the other team members’ roles. There is no room for DBO Attitude in healthy teams. You are there to guide, coach, provide feedback, and work with the team to achieve excellent results for your clients.
Who is leading you?
Unless you are a firm owner or partner, you likely have someone leading you. While you are developing your sense of self as a leader and working hard to build a healthy team, hopefully, they are just as interested in building a healthy relationship with you. If they are not, this can be tricky to navigate. Knowing who is managing you is key to finding some flow here.
Often, we are working with someone who is extremely busy and may not have the time or the ability to articulate consistently what it is they want from you. If this is true in your situation, look at it as an opportunity for you to build your question-asking and intuitive listening skills as well as your confidence.
As you build your relationship with your own leader, there are some basic questions you need to ask in order to build a strong foundation for your relationship:.
I’m a full disclosure type of person. In my experience, transparency has always built trust between me and any team member (particularly those I have reported to) faster than if I filter the information to what I think someone wants to hear. However, people who run law firms, especially the lawyers who own them, are shrewd, and in a litigation practice, it’s a definite possibility that you may get cross-examined from time to time. Developing an excellent working knowledge of your team’s operations and building trust with your leader will help you to gain confidence and create more ease in this area, which will benefit both of you.
Who are your clients?
Now that you know who you are and who you are working with, you must understand who your clients are. If you have already been working in a client-facing role at your firm, you will likely already be on top of this. Moving into a leadership role means keeping client service as the central focus for you and your team. If you are new to your firm, I suggest you spend some time learning what types of cases your firm handles, what issues challenge the clients that retain your firm, what solutions your firm provides for them, and what your firm’s client service standards are. You must fully understand your firm’s purpose and ensure that your team is well supported to meet or exceed your firm’s customer service standards.
Who are we all?
A final word on getting to know yourself and the people you work with. We are all human. None of us is perfect. We all have cracks, but…
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
~ Leonard Cohen
You can only be a successful leader if you can show everyone, from clients to team members to yourself and your firm’s leadership team, some understanding and compassion.
If I had not had such an awkward, painful experience in my DBO role all those years ago, I would not have had the opportunity to explore what I was doing that was counterproductive. I am so grateful to that eight-year-old DBO for embarking on a path that, years later, I am still exploring. It’s an important lesson that we need reminding of from time to time. Above all else, remember to shine your light!
About Susan Pratt
Sue has thirty years of experience working in the legal industry in Vancouver, British Columbia, except for the three years she spent working as a Paralegal in the Cayman Islands. Throughout her career, Sue has supported lawyers in every aspect of their litigation practices, having held Legal Administrative Assistant, Paralegal, Practice Manager, and Operations Manager positions. Her experience in the Cayman Islands allowed her to manually search hard copy court files and run down to the courthouse in flip-flops at 3:55 p.m. for last-minute filings. This is when she developed a keen interest in leveraging technology to improve practice management. She has a natural curiosity about how people work together which she draws on when recruiting, team building, training, and managing change. Sue credits her success and longevity in the legal industry to keeping her sense of humor.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. ~ Victor Borge
When she’s not at work, Sue helps her husband run the business they co-own together, chauffeurs her two teenage daughters, and occasionally finds time for yoga, cooking, listening to true crime podcasts, and hanging out with her faithful rescue dog, who has a deep appreciation for her leadership skills.
Sue is currently the Chief Operations Officer for Klein Lawyers, LLP, a class action and personal injury law firm in Vancouver, BC.
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