Twelve Leadership Resolutions for 2019

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The New Year is a time to shake off bad habits and resolve to make improvements.  Four Altman Weil consultants comment on typical pitfalls of leadership and how to turn things around in 2019.

Bad habit:  Taking on too much
RESOLUTION…
Keep your list of initiatives short.  If it goes beyond five items, stop and refocus.  Your goal as a leader is to make significant impact in a few areas, not spread yourself so thin that little of significance is accomplished.

Bad Habit:  Just solving problems
RESOLUTION…
Give more thought to the future.  Most leaders spend too much time on internal issues, rushing from one perceived problem to the next. But just fixing problems will not advance the business long-term. Peter Drucker famously wrote, "Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. All one can hope to get by solving a problem is to restore normality." 

Bad habit:  Not letting go when something isn't working
RESOLUTION…
Look at your portfolio of practices and clients with more of an investor’s mindset – investing heavily in the most promising opportunities and being willing to let go of things that aren’t working or don’t show promise. Money that is spent to maintain mediocrities or prop up weaknesses could have been invested more purposefully in strengths and opportunities.

Bad habit:  Failing to share leadership responsibilities
RESOLUTION…
A leader does not have to 'do everything.'  Demand more of others, including your practice group, industry team and office leaders. Ask them for forward-looking leadership in their areas of influence.

Bad Habit:  Neglecting the importance of accountability
RESOLUTION…
Ask yourself the following questions: What are the firm's economic, behavioral and ethical standards? Have they been clearly communicated? Do you apply and enforce them fairly and consistently? What happens if a top rainmaker violates the standards?  If there are no consequences for violating or failing to meet clearly defined standards, then you really don’t have standards.

Bad habit:  Getting stuck in traditional patterns
RESOLUTION…
Assign a group to study and build organizational flexibility.  For example, consider changing how you invest in and utilize your work force, manage office space, or digitize and retain paper-based records.

Bad Habit:  Assuming everyone is motivated by the same things
RESOLUTION…
Give up the unconscious inclination to project on those you lead the concepts and drives that motivate you.  Not everyone is as ambitious as you are; not everyone is as worried about appearances; not everyone values taking on more responsibilities, etc.

Bad habit:  Short-term thinking
RESOLUTION…
Ask your practice and office teams to discuss and formulate responses to potential downside risks that your organization might face in the future – the loss of a key client, counter-business cycle reductions in work flow, new competitors or other disruptors.  Think ahead and avoid complacency.

Bad habit:  Reluctance to experiment
RESOLUTION…
Let experimentation be your teacher. Conduct small-scale trials to test ideas and methods relating to pricing, client service, knowledge management, performance metrics and the like.

Bad habit:  Investing in technology, but not in training
RESOLUTION…
Get serious about technology proficiency.  Take a base-line measure of where you are now, then map out how the firm will build in ongoing improvement.  Test to ensure progress is being made.

Bad habit:  Making disagreements personal
RESOLUTION…
Give up on ad hominem attacks on others.  If someone brings up an objection to your pet idea, it's not necessarily because they are Machiavellian, nor that they are too lazy to think it through, or that they like grandstanding.  Perhaps, just perhaps, your idea lacks sufficient merit.  That has nothing to do with the personal qualities or lack thereof of the person who has the courage to point it out.

Bad habit:  Conducting ineffective meetings
RESOLUTION…
End every meeting with these questions: What was decided? Who needs to know? Who will tell them – when and how? What are the next steps?  This simple routine will dramatically improve communication and implementation of initiatives within the firm.



About the Authors
Thomas S. Clay is a principal of legal management consultancy, Altman Weil, Inc. He advises law firms on strategy, mergers and acquisitions, and leadership and management issues. Contact him at tsclay@altmanweil.com

James D. Cotterman is a principal of legal management consultancy, Altman Weil, Inc. He advises law firms on compensation, capital structure and other economic issues. Contact him at jdcotterman@altmanweil.com

Rees W. Morrison is a principal of legal management consultancy, Altman Weil, Inc. He advises law firms and law department leaders on making better decisions through data analytics. Contact him at rwmorrison@altmanweil.com

Eric A. Seeger is a principal of legal management consultancy, Altman Weil, Inc. He advises law firms on strategy formulation and execution, practice group planning and training, merger search, and organizational issues. Contact him at easeeger@altmanweil.com.

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