Q: I’ve been with my firm for a little over two years and would like to be considered for a management position in the future. I’m looking for ways to demonstrate my value to my law firm and make myself more marketable. Any advice on how I can enhance my leadership skills?
Whether you’re looking for ways to enhance your value to your current employer or make yourself more marketable as you seek your next job, enhancing your leadership skills is a wise career move. Employers in the legal field are looking for leaders who have strategic vision, solid business skills, and the ability to mobilize and motivate individuals and teams. And while it takes time, effort and dedication to build and refine leadership skills, the following strategies can help you sharpen yours.
Meet with your manager. By letting your supervisor know that you want to develop leadership skills, you can discuss appropriate training options and taking on responsibilities or projects that will help you improve and grow professionally. As you assess your leadership abilities, consider the characteristics you most want to develop. Whatever your specific goal, set tangible action steps — for example, if you want to boost your presentation skills, take a course in public speaking or business communication. As you create your improvement plan, choose reasonable deadlines and link your goals to specific activities rather than vague resolutions.
Observe others. Unlike other job-related skills such as technological proficiency, leadership can’t be acquired solely in the classroom, through an online tutorial or in a seminar. There’s no diploma or certification. In fact, one of the best ways to learn how to lead is through “modeling” — observing those who demonstrate leadership skills and following their example. If there’s someone within your organization who excels at interpersonal communication or motivating others, for instance, watch that individual and analyze his or her habits. How does the person respond to difficult situations? In what ways do your colleague’s responses differ from yours? How could you emulate his or her behavior? You might even want to ask strong leaders to mentor you as you develop your skills.
Be a good listener. Effective communication goes beyond compelling speaking and persuasive writing skills. Good leaders realize they don’t have all the answers and are willing to listen to others. When interacting with your colleagues, be alert for useful information and insights, good advice, and creative solutions. When meeting with the partners, active listening will allow you to more thoroughly analyze relevant issues, address concerns and come up with effective solutions.
Cultivate flexibility. Leaders recognize that there’s more than one “right” way to accomplish a goal or complete an assignment. Try to be more flexible in your approach to challenging situations and try new methods of resolving problems. It’s also important to acknowledge your mistakes and make the necessary changes to correct them. But don’t get bogged down by errors — focus instead on coming up with a better way in the future.
Acknowledge the efforts of others. You can motivate others and sustain a high level of productivity through frequent and public recognition of their efforts. Such acknowledgement doesn’t have to be elaborate or formal — a sincere email expressing appreciation of a team member’s efforts has tremendous motivational power, particularly in times of intense pressure and stress.
Another quality that distinguishes leaders is a broad awareness of what’s happening and an understanding of how it will affect their organizations. To help your organization integrate and manage change in a future leadership role, you need to understand the significance and potential impact of new trends and be able to provide appropriate recommendations. By remaining active in professional organizations and reading trade and business publications, you’ll be able to keep up with developments in the legal field.