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It’s a well-known fact: One of the main reasons people stick with their jobs or vote with their feet and leave is because of their immediate supervisor. It’s a daunting thought. But now that you’ve made partner, and undoubtedly will have more employees to mind, you’re in the perfect position to become the kind of boss that people love rather than loathe. But why should you bother? First, superb management skills are vital. Many people think these issues are soft and fuzzy and detract from the “real” business of legal work. News flash: The “real” work is done by human beings, who don’t work as efficiently if managed improperly and harbor vengeful thoughts under an arrogant or tyrannical supervisor. These dynamics take away from a superior work product not to mention a harmonious work environment. So instead of grousing that you “didn’t go to law school to be a manager,” you could instead vow to be a top-notch supervisor. As a partner, you are now more visible and more accountable than you were as an associate. You’ve overseen people before, surely, and gained some insights and skills as you’ve gone along, but you now will get added scrutiny and your actions will have greater impact. Another reason to boost your supervisory know-how is that you will be revered as a result. Remember, law firms have dismal records of making people happy. Be part of the solution by acting as a conscientious boss who actually cares about people. And finally, you will be more successful. When people who work for you do a good job, you look better and can get more done. After all, the key to amassing power is leveraging your work and abilities. The following are a few tips on how to be a great supervisor: • Do a reality check. Now is the time to measure your supervisory savvy and identify the skills you need to develop. Think about it: Do people tend to worship you or avoid you like the plague? Do you have trouble communicating or let your temper flare too often? If you’re not sure, ask associates, paralegals, or secretaries who’ve worked with you for some straight feedback. And then sand off the rough edges, while at the same time recognizing your strengths. • Emulate your heroes. Think of supervisors you’ve liked, who have pushed you to perform to your highest ability, and recall the specific behaviors you admired. These may include an obvious respect for you, flexibility, openness, tactfully delivered feedback, good listening skills, and so forth. (And while you’re at it, think of bosses you’ve despised and avoid their defects.) • Set the tone. Think carefully about how to establish the kind of relationship you want to have with subordinates. You will transform before their eyes from a rough peer into a distinct superior, which is a confusing and sensitive time period. You now have a fiduciary responsibility to your partners, which means you might have a conflict of interest with employees who want to tell you — confidentially, of course — about dicey issues such as potential malpractice or personality clashes. Handle this by clarifying your new status and responsibilities with folks who get too comfortable chatting with you (as well as those eager to pry the latest partnership gossip out of you). • Avoid the usual traps. One is the “I’m too busy” excuse. If you don’t bother to explain assignments thoroughly, and aren’t available for questions, you’ll wind up paying for it eventually. Take the time in the first instance, and you’ll gain time in the long run. Another trap is being too nice. It’s very tempting to want to be the “partner that everyone likes,” always easygoing and understanding, overflowing with egalitarianism. The problem: You won’t be able to be tough enough when it’s required. You will wind up doing work you shouldn’t. And you’ll cringe at passing on critical feedback. Ultimately you won’t get the best from people, and you’ll drive yourself nuts. One solution: Alternate styles, by being friendly when you’re just chatting, but switching to a more businesslike tone when discussing assignments. The opposite problem, of course, is being too curt and abrasive. If you are short-tempered and inaccessible, people will revile you and steer clear of you in the future, at the same time spreading unflattering tales of your red-faced tantrums. • Be prepared for gender issues. Women may find they have more problems than men asserting authority without alienating people. While this is a big topic, a quick word of advice for women would be to stick to your guns when you have to do something difficult, like fire a lax performer or criticize someone’s work. In other words, don’t let other people make you feel guilty when you’re just doing your job. If you also let employees get to know you as a person, they will more likely warm up and understand when you have to lower the boom. Men in positions of power have their gender issues, too. For instance, they should be careful that they don’t overdo socializing with the guys, cutting out women who will correctly see even drinks at the bar with all the men as budding favoritism. • Read up. It’s worth it to read management literature so you can advance your knowledge. A classic is Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, which chronicles the qualities of organizations that endure through the ages, focusing on corporations but with universal lessons. Closer to home, and also excellent, is First Among Equals by Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister, specifically about managing professional service firms. And the monthly Harvard Business Review is a great regular read, with lots of articles about people issues. • Help others. Development is a huge part of managing and arguably the most important function. It takes time (more than you may anticipate at first), but the payoff is big. You can leverage your business, you can help retain good lawyers, and you can make people happy in their jobs. Remember that everyone is important — secretaries, paralegals, and associates — so don’t downgrade the importance of development on the basis of status. Make sure to give ongoing feedback, rather than just waiting for the yearly review. While conducting performance reviews, give detailed feedback and not just a perfunctory recitation of the numbers and a “good job” — tell people what they’re doing right by pointing to specific actions. And make a plan to help people deal with their performance issues, with follow-up thereafter, so that the plan gets monitored and accomplished. Management is a fascinating topic, and many lawyers find that once they get into it, they are hooked on its complexities and rewards. It has been neglected until quite recently in law firms, but increasingly firms are waking up to the advantages of a well-oiled firm over one that’s poorly maintained. But even if your employer hasn’t picked up on the latest management trends, your “pocket” of the firm can be an example to others. Ultimately, if you think expansively about supervising, and care deeply, the rest will take care of itself. Holly English, a former litigator, is a writer and consultant in Montclair, N.J. Her latest book is Gender on Trial: Sexual Stereotypes and Work/Life Balance in the Legal Workplace (ALM Publishing, 2003). She may be reached at [email protected].

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