The 8 Characteristics of Successful GCs and CLOs
A new study by Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) identifies key characteristics of successful chief legal officers in an increasingly demanding profession. The global executive search and assessment firm published its findings this week in a report titled Becoming the Calm Risk Taker: Attributes for Success in Todays New Legal Environment.
The study analyzed data from 3,000 assessments administered to executives in jobs ranging from CEO and CFO to GC and CLO. The assessments were used to rate participants in core competencies such as decision-making approaches and relationship skills. RRA, based in New York City, isolated the results of legal officers and compared those to the results from other corporate leaders.
The firm identified eight characteristics exhibited by successful legal executives:
- Socially Bold
- Socially Confident
- Not Easily Excited
The assessment of the lawyers as successful was a qualitative analysis based on the consultants personal knowledge of the individuals, as well as the respondents career paths.
The findings show that todays general counsel arent all that different from other corporate executives. Cynthia Dow, a member of RRAs legal, government, and regulatory affairs practice, says that chief legal officers demonstrate, on average, the same competencies as their counterparts in other executive positions.
Of the top legal officers, the most successful ones showed low excitability, staying calm in a crisis and bringing level-headedness to the conversation when those around them may be losing their composure. According to the study, the best legal executives are 18 percent less excitable than average members of their peer group. They are also 20 percent less excitable than average business executives.
Dow was surprised to see that the most successful legal executives exhibit high levels of what the firm deems mischievousness. She says that the best GCs and CLOs know how to help the business take risks. These legal executives are 11 percent more willing to take risks than average legal executives and almost as likely to take risks as their typical business counterparts.
Top lawyers in the study also demonstrate a high level of decisiveness. Dow says, Clients really dont like it when their lawyers equivocate.
Taken together, the RRA studys findings suggest that legal executives should strive to become informed risk takers.
There is a modernization of in-house legal executives, says Dow. In recent years, the role of law departments has broadened, requiring GCs to work with the business to evaluate risk and develop corporate strategy.
The most strategic conversations are happening within the company, says Dow, and chief legal officers bring a unique perspective to those discussions. They offer a cross-functional and cross-business-unit perspective of the organization, as well as a keen eye toward the externaland increasingly shiftingregulatory environment.
Many top lawyers heading up todays legal departments made the transition from law firms to in-house counsel because they had a passion for the business, says Dow: They went in and they proved themselves.
Dow encourages companies to create development opportunities for lawyers throughout the department. They should be given opportunities to show their mettle in tough situations, she says. In addition to providing opportunities for growth, companies can use the eight attributes of success as part of competency-based evaluations when making hiring decisions.
Individual lawyers looking to use the findings to advance their own careers should self-evaluate, says Dow, and ask for feedback from internal clients, colleagues, and managers. She notes that once lawyers have identified which attributes need a little attention, they should seek targeted on-the-job learning opportunities to develop them.
To decrease excitability, for example, she recommends volunteering for a leadership role in crisis management or shadowing a member of the sales team. Lawyers hoping to increase their mischievousness should take advantage of opportunities to participate in developing business strategy.
Taking on assignments like those might not result in an immediate pay increase, says Dow, but being proactive about becoming a better in-house counsel is likely to be beneficial in the long run.