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An important factor in the decision to make someone a partner is leadership potential. If you are to become a true leader, you will probably have to change your attitudes, aspirations, and style. You’ll also have to develop or enhance skills such as knowing what’s important to others, listening, achieving balance in your own life, and being flexible in the face of change. Many have written, theorized, and spoken about leadership. And there seems to be an army of experts and organizations providing “leadership training.” But how do you create a practical and workable view of leadership that can help you in your own development? Much of my own consulting and coaching has sought to assist and guide individuals, so that’s the perspective I’m taking here, rather than addressing formal or organizational training. What is leadership? Most people believe they know it when they see it, much like the famous remark about pornography. But remember this: A leader may manage, and a manager might lead, but leadership is not management. Never think that because you have subordinates or because others do what you tell them that you are a leader. If they do what you want before you ask them, however, you’re probably on to something. Of the variety of views on leadership, I agree with those who see it as a combination of innate ability and personal qualities and skills, some of which can acquired. Like singing on-key, leadership is an ability that some people are born with, or develop early on, while others are tone deaf. But most people can learn or refine some or all of the skills of an effective leader and the essential competencies of leadership: A leader expresses a vision.This refers to clarity of purpose and direction, the setting of the compass that tells you where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, every road will get you nowhere. A leader motivates people to get things done.Whether by directive (rarely a good choice), example, coaching, consensus, or, best of all, shifting among styles and techniques, this is the ability to influence others, using reason and emotion. Certainly, you can shape behavior by reward (and punishment), and get where you’re going. But, in my view, you can get more, and more lasting, results by appealing to others’ core values and beliefs (people prefer to do what is right and consonant), by coaching, and by example. A leader gives and receives information.Communication is a two-way street. More than two millenniums ago, Zeno of Citium said, “We have been given two ears and but a single mouth in order that we may hear more and talk less.” A leader empowers others.What parent is not pleased when the child he has taught the game finally beats him at it? This characteristic includes the subtle and basic skill of perceiving others clearly, understanding them and the social or organizational world, and acting accordingly. Keen perception and understanding are particularly important in a law firm, where those you lead are also your peers and colleagues. This set of skills is closely tied to a set of personal characteristics, some of which must exist before the skills are learned and some of which develop along with them. To become a leader, your core set of personal qualities will have to include these: Flexibility.The ability, the willingness, and the courage to change your approach and style as the situation demands, and according to the needs and capabilities of the people involved. Centeredness.A confidence and certainty about who you, and your firm, are and what you’re about — and the good sense to act concordantly. There’s a wonderful Jewish folk tale about a man, Zusya, who didn’t pray or study as much as his neighbors thought he should. They even expressed concern about whether he would have his place in The World to Come. He explained, “When I get there I won’t be asked why I wasn’t King Solomon, why I didn’t aspire to such great wisdom; no, I will be asked why I wasn’t Zusya.” Balance.Having a full life, and encouraging others to do so, too. Being willing to stop working and Take Five. Perspective.Being able to take the long view, the broad view, the view from a distance — a close distance, perhaps, but still far enough to see how things fit together. Adaptability.The ability to learn from mistakes, especially your own. This implies the willingness, even the eagerness, to err. It also implies the emotional strength to tolerate uncertainty, dispute, and distress. Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising each time we do.” Sincerity.Meaning what you say. Expressing optimism about the new coach of the Redskins, a former player was quoted in The Washington Postas saying of Marty Schottenheimer: “There’s a real intensity there, and a core sincerity.” Morality.This may seem a bit out of keeping with the ways those in charge have been encouraged to ascend and how they have behaved in the last generation or so. I believe, though, that having a genuine “moral compass” is perhaps the main difference between a leader and someone who’s simply in charge. It may be the most important characteristic, even the one from which others flow. Certainly, I believe, you will eventually fail at being a leader if you don’t have a defining value system that enables you to distinguish right from wrong, humane from bestial, and good from evil. I believe that having such a body of values can inform your choices and animate your decisions, and will make it more likely that you, your firm, and your colleagues will succeed in the long run. These qualities are harder to learn than to grow into, and are certainly not as easily trained into you as communication, social awareness, and techniques of motivation and empowerment. Hard, though, is not impossible. Women and minorities face additional leadership challenges, including few role models they can identify with; resistance to cultural change; and learning to translate their own perceptions and ideas into the language of white men. This is a topic for a future article. Dr. Charles J. Fogelman, a licensed psychologist, is principal of Paladin Coaching Services, an executive coaching and organization consultation firm that specializes in working with lawyers and law firms. He can be reached at (301) 587-0005 or [email protected].

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