How to Better Support Your Leaders for DEI Success

Fostering coaching cultures that empower behavioral change and support high-value teaming is a key component for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) platform success. Organizational development of leaders that allows them to understand, value, and implement inclusive practices is essential. As discussed below, change is hard, and a key strength in coaching—both individuals and teams—is its ability to support meaningful behavioral change.

DEI platforms are by their nature intended to foster change in the hearts of organizations, and ultimately, individuals through a shift to more inclusive cultures. That is not an easy process and a big part of the reason that DEI metrics regularly demonstrate movement at a glacial pace. Change on its own is not easy for any organization or individual, much less change that requires learning different leadership skills that embrace inclusivity of all talent. This is especially true for lawyers when it comes to leadership skills that are not related to the talents of writing a stellar brief, negotiating the best contract terms, or convincing a judge or jury that your argument should win the day.

It is generally recognized that organizational inclusivity goals succeed with implementation from the top down. They require a shift in leadership skills and mindset. For law firms, this means a change from the old school hierarchical leadership model still dominant today of “Do what I say,” to a leadership model of service and collaborative, inclusive, high-value teaming. This shift in leadership mindset and behaviors is not intuitive, and requires increased support to succeed, particularly in a profession where inclusive leadership models are few and far between.

To put it bluntly, it is not fair or realistic to expect law firm, practice group, or team leaders to simply pivot into inclusivity on their own or with a workshop or two. Actual behavioral change that is grounded in a paradigm shift—which is honestly what DEI platforms are seeking—requires much more than listening to a “best practices” talk.

Three Key Components for Behavioral Change

Behavioral change requires three components: 1) Desire; 2) Willingness; and 3) Courage. Without these three elements change will not happen.

Desire is based on a goal. Does this leader embrace the organizational DEI goals? Until this first connection to the DEI goal is realized and desire for success is ignited, there is little opportunity for substantive behavioral change. If one is connected to the goal of encouraging DEI and inclusivity of talent within a team, then this internal desire can spark willingness to change.

Many legal leaders are fully committed to DEI goals and understand they have a vital role to play. On the other hand, many are not committed for various reasons, or they are ambivalent, and see the achievement of these goals as someone else’s responsibility. The first organizational challenge is incentivizing your leaders to understand and embrace the DEI goals.

Willingness means an individual must be open to change to achieve the desired goal. Foundational to DEI progress is the idea that those who lead and influence work assignments, team dynamics, and opportunities to connect with clients must be open to at least the possibility they need to do something different. Leadership must be willing to allow for and subsequently commit to change. If a leader is unwilling to change how they show up as a leader, DEI efforts will likely fail within that team or group.

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor given by male leaders for not being willing to commit to change in the DEI space is a lack of time or energy. In other words, they have other priorities. Leaders have very full plates already, are not incentivized to prioritize development of the requisite skill sets, and are not supported through individual or team coaching to understand what beneficial change looks like or would be useful. Critically, most “unwilling” leaders have little understanding of how these changes could actually benefit them and their practice.

Most partners in positions of authority also will not have experienced inclusive leadership themselves. They will not have good experiential models to draw from in their efforts to lead their current teams. So, not only are organizations expecting their leaders to confront their own internal unconscious biases (remember we all have them), but they also expect them to know how to lead a diverse team effectively, without coaching support for how to do so.

Pause and consider, how many lawyers would know how to go about making a team inclusive without effective guidance and some ongoing support? Increasingly the efficacy of team coaching and development, along with individualized coaching for leaders, is being utilized to assist with team dynamics and shifts to higher-value team functioning.

Once willingness to adapt and change in furtherance of DEI goals is established. leaders must find their courage to envision, develop, and implement new leadership strengths.

Courage is needed to create a plan and put behavioral change into action. It takes courage to view your leadership actions, habits, and practices honestly. Courage is also required to see how you as a leader can or should evolve to support the organizational goals of diverse talent inclusion, development, and retention. Finally, courage comes into play when learning new best practices and trying out, sometimes awkwardly, new methods of communication.

Given the requirements for change, is it any wonder so many partners and legal leaders feel overwhelmed by calls for inclusivity, or simply see this as someone else’s job? Most partners do not have the bandwidth without ongoing organizational support, such as coaching to meaningfully shift their interpersonal leadership behaviors. Leaders also need clear messaging that DEI metrics must be a priority. In the end, firms and legal departments need to shift their practices to set their leaders up for success in creating cultures for all talent to succeed.

Acknowledging the difficulty of change is not a statement on the value of DEI goals or the potential efficacy of individual leaders. What is needed is a reality check with a pivot. A pivot into providing support through coaching both leaders and their teams to ensure cultures that welcome all talent and increase team efficacy. The power of coaching lies in its ability to assist individuals and teams to change how they think and interrelate.

Providing leaders with effective, efficient support through coaching and training them in turn to coach their people can lead to meaningful change. Change that allows individuals to work together in positive, inclusive cultures that promote development and retention of all your talent thereby furthering your DEI platform goals.

About the Author

Michele Powers is a certified team and executive coach specializing in lawyers and law firms. She is a former Big Law partner and recognizes the challenges inherent in developing high-value teams and inclusive environments. Contact Michele at

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