Building relationships at a time of “change & upheaval”
morning keynote speech
The Law Society of Ireland
ANNUAL IN HOUSE AND PUBLIC SECTOR CONFERENCE
Thursday, 8th. November
Good morning, delegates.
I must start by unburdening my conscience. I must confess to having bad thoughts about some lawyers.
To be perfectly honest – I have a sort of “love-hate” relationship with them. I say sort of because love’s DEFINITELY too strong a word. Let’s be clear and for the avoidance of doubt as you, people like to say: I-DON’T – LOVE – LAWYERS. And you’re not to tweet that I do!
And hate’s TOO strong a word, too. What I mean is sometimes I find them VERY frustrating. But I do admire them. I do respect them. Perhaps, part of me even envies them.
I’m NOT a lawyer. Note that I DIDN’T say I’m a NON-LAWYER Whoever came up with that expression should be shot!
Between 1978 and 1982 at UCC, I studied “Commerce”. I MAJORED in Law & Accounting. Then I spent most of the next 35 years working with lawyers, in one guise or another. First as an accountant – and later as a divisional director and managing director in various organisations mainly media companies. So I spent a lot of time with lawyers mostly on commercial or intellectual property deals.
When I set up my own consultancy, over 15 years ago, I ended up spending more than HALF my time working with lawyers of all kinds – in-house, private practice, public and private sector, B2C and B2B.
I’ve lost count of the number of legal sector talks, workshops and conferences I’ve done. The plethora of blogs and articles I’ve written. The number of 1-1 sessions I’ve had with in-house and private practice lawyers, young, old, and middle-aged. I’ve even worked with the most maddening lawyers of all – barristers.
So, I must know hundreds of them – which makes me feel like a kind of David Attenborough of the sector. Fascinated – even obsessed – yet not one of them.
In the main, most lawyers I’ve met are usually “nice” people. And they’re invariably bright – sometimes, awesomely bright. And they’re incredibly hardworking. And they’re interesting and good company because they tend to be readers and thinkers – and have opinions on everything from politics to sport.
But there’s one thing I’ve come to notice over the years with lawyers, is that they behave as if they feel they have to know EVERYTHING!
Now, I don’t BLAME them for this. Society grabs very bright young people from university puts them through law school – where they are force-fed an adversarial model, and more often than not made to value thinking over feeling. After that, they’re worked to death in law firms.
Yes, We need our lawyers to be tough, analytical and unemotional. And we hire them because they know the law – and we don’t. So, what’s the problem?
Well, it’s this. Many lawyers end up in leadership roles of one sort or another. Roles they’re OFTEN not prepared or trained for. One GC client of mine – from an international business with a huge Legal team – was once asked whether she became a “manager” by luck or design?
She answered that she started as a litigator and loved litigation. Later she worked on commercial deals and became a bit of a “deal junkie”. Then she was spotted as a potential leader and was given some leadership roles
She liked the promotion but said that she had no proper TRAINING in LEADERSHIP, OR in other business disciplines, like, for example, MARKETING.
I choose marketing because it can to some appear to be the most nebulous of functions. I’ve known some lawyers to look down their noses at marketing. One equity partner client earning over a million dollars once said to me: “Marketing? how complicated can marketing be? All you need are forty tickets to Wimbledon…”
At a stroke, he had reduced to nothing all the art and science of marketing – which is awesomely difficult to learn and to get right.
But to be fair to lawyers when it comes to the use or abuse, of the word STRATEGY they HAVE a point. Strategy, after all, simply means “HOW?”How will you achieve your objectives? That’s all. The rest is MANAGEMENT SPEAK.
And it’s not a case that lawyers don’t go on management or leadership courses – they do. But they approach them with a particular mindset forged in the CRUCIBLE of their legal training.
Their training usually excluded the F-word – Feelings. Lawyers are trained to distance themselves, to some extent, from their feelings.
That’s OK when it comes to black letter law – Or in court – Or when you just want to win your case, Or deal point. But leading people requires a DIFFERENT skillset because it’s more problematic. And the problem is, you CAN’T lead unless you engage with your feelings and with other people’s feelings. I’m afraid there’s no way around it.
So Lawyers must find a way of increasing their EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE if they want to manage their relationships successfully. That’s it. That’s my core message today.
It’s in your personal interests, in your family’s interests, in your profession’s interests, in your Legal Function’s interests, in your organisation’s interests, and – of course – it’s in the interests of society – that you increase your EI or EQ, whatever acronym you use.
Don’t take my word for it – just Google EI or EQ, mindfulness or empathy at work. You will find that this is not a fad. This is here to stay. Because the fads have gone. They were blown away by the last corporate scandal. The trust barometer has been broken into smithereens – and we all know it.
So there’s no getting away from it – in the 21st century – if lawyers are going to be fit for purpose, increasing their emotional intelligence is an ABSOLUTE must.
There are LOADS of books written about emotional intelligence – some better than others. Daniel Goleman is great if you want to understand the theory and the practice of EI. Brené Browne’s top ten TED Talk on how showing your vulnerability is NOT a weakness is excellent. Her book, Daring Greatly, which was given to me by a GC, Is well worth reading. Eckhardt Tolle who wrote The Power of Now is brilliant on mindfulness.
From all my reading of these great authors and from all my work with clients I distilled EI down to three components:
- The ability to negotiate your needs productively.
Empathy is about being able to understand how another may be feeling. Self-awareness is about knowing how you behave on a good OR bad day and the ability to negotiate your needs productively is about win-win NOT win-lose and NOT lose-win.
It is often in the area of negotiating needs that many lawyers come unstuck. It may be productive to get your needs met in an adversarial manner in court, or in negotiating a deal or a contract but that approach will not get you where you want to get to with your relationships.
Now, some of you may be thinking – this is all very interesting, but it isn’t about me – I’m not a leader. Some of you may not even have a team.
My belief is, based on my experiences that if you’re a lawyer, you ARE a leader. Let me explain to you why I believe that you are a leader whether or not you lead a team: It’s because you are an officer of the court.
That means – to quote the Law Society of Ireland’s Guide for In-House Lawyers May 2018: “You have an overriding duty to the court to ensure, in the public interest, that… justice is achieved”. And that’s a leadership position. In your organization –In your community – In society.
You colleagues in Finance, Operations, IT etc. They are NOT officers of the court. They do NOT have the same broad legal responsibilities.
Philip Wood QC, Visiting Professor of Law at Oxford, wrote in the January Edition of Modern Legal Practice: “legal systems are, in all their aspects, the most fundamental source of morality… the world may be able to do without its various philosophies and religions …it cannot do without its laws” …
So, you are guardians of the rule of law and defenders of our hard-won democracies. And when it comes to upholding the rule of law, your role is to protect us from ourselves – as one GC, for example, put it to stop us sending that stupid letter; to put the good of society above what is expedient for the business or organisation.
And if all of that’s not lofty and high fallutin’ enough for you if you HAVE a team, not only must you LEAD them as well as any other leader in your business or organization, but you must lead them in accordance with your higher purpose in society.
The first rule of leadership is to create an environment in which the people you lead, THRIVE. And what could be more at ODDS with your legal training than creating an environment where the other guy thrives? Were you not trained to some extent not only to win but to ensure that the other party loses? Is that not the essence of an adversarial system? But as leaders, you can’t treat your context as a gladiatorial arena. That’s a recipe for disastrous relationships.
And over the next five years – a period of “change and upheaval” the strapline of this conference – you will have to grapple with these contradictions in your business – in your public sector organisation – and in your head.
So, imagine this is 2023 and not 2018 just five years from now. And, imagine if with the kind permission of The Law Society – albeit with a forty-page health and safety disclaimer – a Time Tunnel, like the one in the TV programme we used to watch as kids – were to appear behind me, and we all entered it together and tumbled into the future but back into this same hall, here in Blackhall Place in Dublin the year would be 2023.
If still alive, we will have aged by five years. I will be 63. You will all be five years older. So picture yourself in five years’ time? What work will you be doing? Where and with what title? Will you still be an in-house lawyer? How will the function have changed, if at all? Will it be, as you lawyers like to say, B-A-U, business as usual? Lots of stuff done using new technology and AI, but the core will remain unchanged – but with some techy bells and whistles ridding you of some of the tedium.
Or will the legal sector be unrecognisable from what it is now – like the airline industry is when compared with 25 years ago?
All the art and science of legal counsel and process serves the purpose of ensuring that the business – or the organisation – makes the best decisions it can.
And how you manage your RELATIONSHIPS up, down and across – impacts HUGELY how those decisions are made. So the most important thing for you to do now is to focus on managing your relationships as well as you can. That way you will be prepared for any outcome and you will have a more fulfilling and rewarding career.
Life and work are about how one person, one team, one function, one board, one business, one organisation, or indeed one country – relates to another.
Yes, you can become more and more expert in your area of legal expertise. But this is not what worries the GCs I work with apart from the nonsense of doing “more for less”?
They are concerned about their relationships. They are worried about making a mistake. Some fear their boss or specific people in ‘the business’? Some see in emails and texts sleights – real or imagined. And they often feel angry, frustrated, unappreciated or sometimes, just bored
These are all feelings. If you Google feelings you will get a chart of ‘emojis’. These come under four headings: Happy, Sad, Angry and Other. Let’s pick three from each
Happy: Confident; content; loved
Sad: Disappointed, Hurt, Unloved
Angry: Annoyed, Frustrated, Fuming
Other: Anxious, Jealous, Bored
SO how can YOU manage these feelings – and therefore your relationships – better? That’s a big subject. It’s what I spend most of my time doing with boards main and operating and Exec. Committees and with lawyers and their legal teams.
And I too use an acronym. It’s P – S – B: Purpose, Strategy, Behaviour.
Your starting point is to review THREE purpose statements:
FIRST, what’s your personal purpose as an in-house lawyer?
SECOND, what’s the purpose of your Legal function?
THIRD, what’s the purpose of your organization? Unless these three purposes are CLEAR. Unless their INTER-dependence is NEGOTIATED then it follows that the relationships on which they depend are at risk.
On your personal purpose:
Why are you an in-house lawyer? Why do you want to remain a lawyer? Did you always want to be one? Did you drift into law? Or were you pushed?
Since you are where you are what’s your purpose now?
You have choices – you can stay where you are, and make it better – or you can leave. Whatever you decide, make sure you have a purpose – even if your purpose is to figure out your purpose. The quality of your relationships – which is what this talk is all about will come back time and time again – to the extent that OTHERS can see and feel that YOU have figured out YOUR personal purpose.
They won’t speak openly about this of course But that does NOT mean they’re not trying to figure YOU out.
Next, you must decide on the purpose of your legal function in relation to the purpose of your organization.
Earlier this year I was commissioned to write an article for the quarterly journal – Modern Legal Practice. You can download it from my website. The title was: GC role and purpose: a revolution, not evolution, is needed by business and society
The gist of it is this:
When it comes to legal counsel and process – you know, and they don’t. The relationship is asymmetrical. FULL STOP. So you must have the courage to tell – not ask – the organisation what it needs to achieve its purpose. Now that can be a bit scary and for good reason, there is “scared” emoji
Next, you can move on to your personal STRATEGY. That is, HOW will you achieve your personal purpose? I recommend that your strategy should be to learn how to lead by connecting with your feelings – as well as your thoughts.
You were trained to think. That’s made you a good lawyer. Now you need to train yourself to feel as well as you think. That’s about using a different muscle.
That brings us to your B – the behaviour you will use to implement your strategy to achieve your purpose.
Feel Need Do is a useful tool, championed by Marshall Rosenberg and others, to help you manage your feelings and therefore your relationships. It works like this:
So, start with what you feel about a situation, then ask yourself what you need in relation to that feeling. Finally, ask yourself what OPTIONS you have in terms of what you can you do to meet your need to address your feeling.
Often lawyers jump to DOING because their legal training ensures they usually know what to Do. Doing is their comfort zone. They should pause. Check what they feel and what they need.
In summary, there are three steps to managing your relationships better:
Step 1: figure out your personal purpose
Step 2: decide on a strategy to achieve it
Step 3: then make small changes in your relationships every day.
Just start by changing ten interactions in every hundred to reflect your newly-framed purpose as a lawyer-leader. Changing just ten interactions is only 10% of all interactions.
That’s small change.
But – in aggregate – small changes will have a big impact on you on your business or organisation and society. So if you want to manage your relationships better – and you’re looking for two words to sum it all up – then SMALL CHANGE sums it up.
If you’re up for Small Change in YOUR behaviour then, hard as it is to believe, you will notice big changes in THEIRS.
I know it seems like a contradiction that to get others to change you have to change first. But it’s true.
And take a moment to think about the complexity of some of your relationships today. If you RAGed them now: how many are green? how many are amber? how many red?
How can you convert the Reds to Green – and prevent the Ambers going Red? The answer lies with you – not them.
Recognise that, and you will be well on the road to being a great lawyer-leader.