Lead Your Legal Team Towards Creativity, Don’t Micromanage

Lead Your Legal Team Towards Creativity, Don’t Micromanage

Sometimes, simply leading your legal team by managing their work, delegating and taking control of the operation will not reap the best results for clients. It will also stop your team from thinking on their own feet.

In this final article in his series on wise leadership in the law, Tim Segaller, an expert in mindfulness, explains how ‘emotional intelligence’ and a coaching approach can help senior lawyers lead others most effectively.

This article series has set out the benefits for senior lawyers of a mindfulness-based approach to leadership: mental resilience, critical thinking skills; ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ) for negotiation and litigation; and ‘authentic leadership’. In this final article I’m returning to EQ, but with a broader view: how to enhance staff development and build strong relationships with colleagues and clients.

As social beings, we all thrive when we’re in good connection with others, including the people we work with or for – employees, clients, and other stakeholders. Some people may have more natural people skills, but anyone can learn how to nurture healthy relationships.

This is where emotional intelligence comes in. It’s about understanding the emotional landscape of both yourself and others. Leaders and managers with a high EQ are able to really ‘get’ other people – their motivations, preferences, and challenges – and use this knowledge to make wise decisions in everyone’s best interests. Helpfully, the best way to train EQ is through precisely the same set of mindfulness-based skills as outlined in my first article. It’s all about deepening your awareness of self and other.

Leaders and managers with a high EQ are able to really ‘get’ other people – their motivations, preferences, and challenges – and use this knowledge to make wise decisions in everyone’s best interests.

Another way to develop EQ is through a ‘co-active’ approach to leadership, which is about stepping into a ‘coaching’ mode and giving others the space to think clearly and creatively – rather than stepping in to micromanage or fix things. This is invaluable when the people you lead have got bogged down in complexity and over-thinking, or lack confidence or experience. Not only does this support others’ long-term development, it also frees up your time and energy to focus on the bigger strategic picture.

Here is a simple set of steps to follow – during meetings, appraisals, and other interactions – to cultivate the co-active approach:

Step 1 – setting the foundation

  • Creating the right conditions: choosing the best time and place for the meeting/interaction
  • Clarity on your role: as leader/manager, you are there to help people think things through, not just to fix things.

Step 2 – Getting clear: focus and outcome

  • Focus on the issue(s): what exactly are you looking at, and what can be done in the time you have.
  • Outcome: get clear on where a good place to get to would be.

Step 3 – Delving deeper

  • Active listening: being fully present, and listening deeply to what the other person is really seeking.
  • Questioning/curiosity: asking open-ended questions that reveal understanding.
  • Feedback/challenge: providing rigorous support to reality test.

Step 4 – Facilitating actions and learning

  • Getting practical: drawing out practical actions to achieve desired change
  • Be specific: ensuring actions are specific; capturing these next steps
  • Review: identifying progress made; acknowledging any major changes and milestones.

While this ‘co-active’ model is straightforward common-sense, it can take getting used to, as it may challenge some old habitual ways of leading or managing others. But as with any new skill-set, regular practice can lead to quick and highly effective results. It can also help you make a gradual shift towards a radically different approach to leadership, where you become the catalyst for creativity and strategic solutions, rather than being burdened with the role of fixer or commander-in-chief.

As I can come to the end of this blog series, let’s sum up all of my threads into a single narrative. The foundations for wise leadership in the law lie in cultivating mental resilience. This leads to clear, calm and creative thinking. It also enables you to connect fully with your most authentic leadership style, based on your natural strengths. Understanding and managing yourself in this way is also the basis for relating better to others. Such EQ skills are invaluable in negotiation and litigation, and for helping the people you lead to access their own problem-solving resources. This then paves the way for the most effective working relationships, which are an essential support to anyone navigating the rocky landscape of running a successful legal practice.

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