Six Quick Tips on Being a More Effective Leader

Leadership is a process that helps a group to achieve its goals. Learning how to be an effective leader requires a tremendous amount of time, commitment and knowledge. John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Do not assume just because you are appointed chairperson of a committee, managing partner, or the leader of your team or department, that you have the skills and/or knowledge to be a great leader. Take time to learn about leadership and the various styles of leadership, especially if you are newly appointed to a leadership position.

Whether you lead multiple teams, an entire firm or just one staff member, here are six quick simple tips on how to become a more effective leader.

1. Be An Active Listener

As a leader you will have numerous responsibilities and commitments. It is important to understand all that is required of you. Unfortunately, modern technology can interfere with being an active listener.

The inescapable ping announcing that “you got mail” is a major distraction during a meeting. Even if you resist the urge to pick up your phone or glance at your computer to check the message, that initial buzz caused a brief interruption during the conversation, which can create lingering thoughts. “Hmmm… I wonder if that was the mediator emailing me back with a settlement offer or perhaps it’s my significant other letting me know what time to pick up the children.” Regardless, you could miss some vital information during that one second. Similarly, trying to have a meaningful and productive conversation while texting or checking email is a recipe for disaster. Avoid the temptation to multitask.

Rather, make it a habit to silence all electronic devices before starting a meeting. If you are waiting for a time-sensitive electronic communication, have your assistant or a colleague who is not attending the meeting monitor your email and texts, and give clear instructions on how to respond to important messages.

Interruption-free conversation that allows you to take notes on key points and ask follow up and clarifying questions will help you not only remember important information, but will let the listener know you are actively engaged in the conversation.

2. Have Open And Inclusive Communication With All Members Of Your Team/Firm

Great leaders make everyone feel included and part of the team, from partners to associates and non-lawyer staff members. Make sure you “RAVE”—Respect, Appreciate, and Value your Employees—all members of your team equally, no matter what position each holds.

How many times you have called together your team members at the last minute to prepare, file and serve an “all hands on deck” 30-page brief that was due yesterday? Yet, when you receive the court’s ruling the following day, you forgot to tell the office services clerk who rushed to the court to file the document that the motion was granted.

Making sure your communication is inclusive and involves all members of the team will make them feel valued and appreciated. When a team member knows they matter, that individual is happy to come to work and eager to give you their energy and loyalty.

3. Create Clear Measurable Goals With Clarifying Objectives

A great leader must be a visionary, optimistic, and a realist. Having lofty aspirations and ideas without clear expectations is not exercising good leadership judgment. Team members will not only be confused, but will not know what is expected of them.

As a leader you must lead, and every successful leader will establish concrete, measurable goals before embarking on any task. Having a written action plan will enable you to develop, monitor, modify, execute, and accomplish goals.

Finally, in the grimmest, darkest hour, a true lawyer leader will focus on the positive and the strengths needed in trying to obtain that goal.

4. Devote Quality Time With Your Team

A successful leader leads by not only inspiring and motivating a team, but will put down their playbook , get off the sideline, and get deep in the trenches with their team.

It is crucial to give undivided attention when spending time with all members of your team. A leader must be available to answer questions and assist the team as needed. Make sure you schedule regular meetings with your entire team. Whether in-person meetings or phone or video conferences, it is important not to exclude members of the team if you expect all members to participate in reaching the goals. Regularly scheduled meetings will allow you and your team members to discuss the progress, learn of any potential problems and share any new information.

Additionally, as leader, when you spend quality time with your team it helps you become aware and understand your team members/staff needs. This will facilitate strong collaboration and communication skills, which are critical in building trust. People want a leader they can trust.

5. Integrity

Always maintain unwavering integrity and, professionalism. Be honest. Tell the truth. Do what you say you are going to do. Always take responsibility for your actions. By conducting yourself in an ethical manner, it will not only make others respect and trust you, but make it easier for others to follow you.

6. Take Time For Yourself

Being a leader is a huge responsibility and can be stressful. Make sure you take time for yourself.

Create a written schedule to: exercise; spend time with family and friends; and reflect on your role as a leader to learn how to become a more effective leader. It can be a challenging but a very rewarding experience.

About the Author

Cynthia Thomas is the founder and executive manager of PLMC & Associates, a management consulting firm for small and midsize law firms. She can be reached at 415.419.5863 or

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