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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 28, 2016

    On Balance
    5 Ways Lawyers Can Profit from Positive Leadership

    Double the return on your investment with these five tips, which will help you become a better lawyer and a better leader at the same time.

    Paula M. Davis-Laack

    Mother duck and chicks

    What type of leader are you, and how well do you develop others? This is not a question that many lawyers ask themselves, and leadership development is not an area of focus for law schools. Law firms want associates who bill lots of hours, but as a lawyer’s career develops, the need to have serious conversations about being an effective leader becomes more important.

    What are you doing as a lawyer to also effectively develop yourself as a leader? Maybe you have explored some of the thousands of management and leadership-development courses, books, webinars, and seminars that are offered in the marketplace, or perhaps your firm sponsors trainings in this area.

    The science of leadership has expanded beyond traditional management theories and principles to include topics to help you become a more complete leader, such as resilience, strengths, motivation, and meaning. Do you have emotional intelligence? How quickly do you bounce back when things go wrong? What are some ways you can exert more influence among those you lead?

    These are just some of the questions posed in a new wave of leadership materials, which provide effective tools that many traditional leadership-development resources ignore. Here are five such strategies to help you boost your productivity and transform your law practice.

    1. If You’re Stuck, Just Start Somewhere

    A coaching client of mine, a successful businesswoman, found herself dragging her feet and procrastinating on certain projects. This was having a negative impact on her career because her procrastination was causing her to turn in projects late.

    Paula Davis-LaackPaula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm focused on enhancing resilience, well-being, and engagement in the legal profession. She is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.

    To get her moving forward, we first had to uncover a very deeply entrenched mindset that was holding her back: she felt that she simply wasn’t good enough to be working on certain projects. (This is one of the 10 mindsets1 that, I’ve discovered, often undercut happiness and resilience for many professionals).

    With that barrier removed, I then asked two key questions: First was, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to work on the project?” While her projects usually required hours to complete, she was stuck and this question helped her to inch forward. Then, I asked her, “What else could you do to move the project along by only 1 percent?” Small wins are extremely effective in helping you to push through procrastination and to achieve your goals.2

    2. Work Less, Accomplish More

    Aren’t you supposed to work long hours to be a successful lawyer? The importance of billable hours is front and center at most law firms, but in one study, researchers found that scheduling time off rather than working more hours actually increased organizational and personal productivity.3 Additional studies show that industrial workers’ productivity dramatically decreases after eight hours’ work per day. For knowledge workers, productivity drops after six hours.4 Simply put, more hours do not automatically lead to more productivity; in fact, usually the opposite is true.

    3. Develop a Learner Mindset

    Using a learner mindset means putting yourself in the position to likely make a few mistakes, get a little confused, probably feel a little dumb at times, but ultimately learn something useful – either about yourself, your coworkers, or a process. With a learner’s mindset, people focus more on effort and gaining competence rather than ability and demonstrating competence.

    These questions will help encourage a learning mindset:5

    • How can your past experiences help you with this current challenge?

    • What do you hope to learn from this project?

    • What are some mistakes you might make? And what would you say to persuade yourself that it is okay to make mistakes like these once in a while?

    Become the Leader You Want to Be: Apply by Aug.15 for a Spot at the New Leadership Academy

    The G. Lane Ware Leadership Academy, a new State Bar of Wisconsin program created by the Leadership Development Committee, aims to give lawyers skills, strategies, and resources to become effective leaders in the profession and community. The Academy, a comprehensive leadership development training program for lawyers, is open to any member in good standing who wishes to enhance his or her leadership skills. Applications for the Academy are accepted through Aug. 15.

    About the Academy

    The Academy is a multisession training program designed to enhance the leadership skills, inspire leadership involvement, build professional networks, and foster the professional development of a diverse and inclusive group of lawyers.

    In support of its mission, the G. Lane Ware Leadership Academy will strive to:

    • Identify and train lawyers who can be called on by the State Bar of Wisconsin, state and local government entities, local bar associations, and community organizations to serve in leadership and service.

    • Nurture effective leadership with respect to ethics and professionalism, resulting in raised ethical professional standards and improved reputation of lawyers in the community.

    • Create opportunities for lawyers to build mutually beneficial, meaningful relationships with other lawyer leaders, thereby improving their professional development, confidence, and satisfaction.

    How It Works

    Lawyers participating in the Academy must attend all three sessions during the 2016-17 year. All program sessions will be held at the State Bar Center in Madison on the following dates: Nov. 4-5, 2016; Feb. 3, 2017; and April 28-29, 2017. The program will be submitted for CLE credit.

    Tuition for the 2016-17 Leadership Academy is $250 – there are a limited number of scholarships available. Tuition includes meals. Participants will be responsible for their travel expenses and accommodations.

    To Learn More and To Apply

    Read the application instructions. Complete the online application form by Aug. 15, 2016. Space is limited. A selection committee will review applications and will notify applicants of selection outcome by Sept. 15.

    4. Surround Yourself with the Right People

    Within social networks are clusters of happy and unhappy people that reach out to three degrees of separation. Each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by approximately 9 percent.6 Research being done in the field of neuroscience also shows that emotions are contagious. “Mirror neurons” in our brains literally catch another person’s mood, much like catching a cold.

    5. Use the Four Components of Positive Leadership

    According to University of Michigan professor Kim Cameron, positive leadership consists of the following four areas: creating a culture of civility and shared values, high-quality relationships, respectful communication, and meaning. When companies focus on these areas, profits follow. Profits at Prudential Financial Services changed in one year from a $140 million loss to a $20 million profit based in part on positive leadership practices.7 When 29 nursing units applied positive leadership practices in these four areas, they noticed the following results: voluntary turnover decreased, quality of care improved by 29 percent, patient satisfaction increased, and doctor-nurse relationships improved.8

    An easy positive-leadership practice to use is FAST feedback. Give feedback that is frequent, accurate, specific, and timely, and ask for feedback in the same way. When I practiced law, the phrase I often heard was, “no news is good news.” That didn’t help me capitalize on what I was doing well, and it is unfair to learn about areas that need improvement only once per year, at a review.


    Effective leadership is needed in the legal profession now more than ever, and new, cutting-edge tools are needed to help drive productivity, engagement, and results. Implement just one of the strategies outlined above, and not only will you become a more productive, better lawyer, but you may also notice a smile returning to your workday!


    1 Paula Davis-Laack, 10 Mindsets that Undercut Happiness, Psych. Today (July 24, 2013).

    2 Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work 20-21 (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press 2011).

    3 Leslie A. Perlow, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press 2012).

    4 Katrina Alcorn, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press 2013).

    5 Margaret Greenberg & Senia Maymin, Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business 29-47 (New York: McGraw Hill 2013).

    6 Nicholas A. Christakis & James H. Folwer, Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior, 32(4) Stat. Med. (Feb. 20, 2013).

    7 Kim Cameron, Practicing Positive Leadership 2 (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. 2013).

    8 Kim Cameron, Carlos Mora, Trevor Leutscher & Margaret Calarco, Effects of Positive Practices on Organizational Effectiveness, 47 J. of Applied Behavioral Sci. 266-308 (2011); see also Cameron, supra note 7, at 13-14.

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