How Do We Achieve 'Authentic Leadership' in the Law?

How Do We Achieve ‘Authentic Leadership’ in the Law?

So far in this series we’ve explored key benefits for senior lawyers of ‘brain-based’ mindfulness training: mental resilience for managing workplace stress; critical thinking skills; and ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ) to enhance negotiation and litigation skills.

In this fourth article in his series on wise leadership in the legal profession, Tim Segaller from, explains how senior lawyers can deal best with tough leadership challenges by reconnecting with their natural strengths.

‘Authentic leadership’ is a relatively new concept in leadership development, usually meant to emphasise the value of leaders ‘being themselves’ and ‘vulnerable’ at work, instead of putting on a front and hiding their weaknesses.

While this idea holds some water, in my experience there are risks when leaders step too far away from their essential role of modelling to others a high level of self-management and capacity. Putting it more bluntly, the organisation or its people don’t always benefit from knowing everything about the boss’s inner demons!

And so, I use the term ‘authentic leadership’ in a different way. The context here is that a common trap for leaders to fall into – particularly during times of complexity or challenge, which are plentiful in the legal profession – is to think they must master complicated leadership models or skillsets. Of course there are always useful new tricks to learn but often striving hard to reach a ‘corporate’ ideal can lead to stress and exhaustion, or block clear thinking.

It’s far better to lead others naturally, based on your own distinctive leadership style – trusting you’ve got what it takes, otherwise you wouldn’t have got where you are in the first place. I’ve seen this many times in my work with leaders and teams: things run more smoothly when people play to their natural strengths and capacities, rather than focussing too heavily on areas for improvement.

The good news is that it’s possible to cultivate this approach to leadership – particularly when faced with a tough challenge. Here is a simple set of steps and practices senior lawyers can take themselves through at such times.

Step 1: Identify and release blocks to carrying out your leadership role

The most effective approach for this is simply to bring into conscious awareness any limiting beliefs. Write them down. Examples might be, “I’ve got too much on my plate to do anything properly” or “I’m not role modelling good practice right now.” Next, you can use some of the mindfulness-based techniques outlined in my first article to loosen the grip of these beliefs: watching them come and go, knowing that they are just thoughts, not the absolute truth.

Step 2: Reconnect with your natural qualities and capacities

In my leadership programmes, what works most effectively here is to bring to mind past experiences of achievement, where you clearly demonstrated the necessary skills and capacities. It’s amazing how easily people lose touch with these at times of stress, yet how accessible they are when taking a few moments for conscious reflection. Again, write down some notes to bring things into full awareness.

Step 3: Draw out next steps

Start by listing the tasks you need to carry out to meet a leadership challenge or deliver a project (e.g. create a project team, delegate tasks, etc.). Next, ask yourself what the experiences you recalled in step 2 point to about how best to go about this. The key here is to identify the conditions or resources that were in place then, which you could recreate now. Once this is clear, the next steps will become much clearer. Make sure they are specific and actionable.

I’ve seen countless times how effective this simple process can be in getting senior leaders from feelings of overwhelm or inertia in the face of tough leadership challenges, to a place of renewed energy and belief – leading to clear and practicable next steps that successfully address the issue at hand.

Going further, lawyers in positions of senior responsibility and management would do well to role model these attitudes and behaviours with their juniors – by using a ‘coaching’ approach in helping them find their own solutions to tough problems. I will be looking at this in more depth in my final article.

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