5 questions to communicate your leadership style for legal team success
All great leaders take the time to communicate their leadership style right from the beginning. In this blog, we explore some very simple advice to succeed in this first crucial step when joining or leading a new team.
We're delighted to have collaborated on this piece with Pierre Landy, executive mentor to legal leaders and ex-GC at Yahoo, Ledger, and The Walt Disney Company. To learn more about Pierre, check out his Legal Spotlight here.
It may seem obvious, but when you take on a new position or start working with a new team, the first thing you have to do is introduce yourself. I know, “duh” right?
Of course, I'm not just talking about presenting your bio and background. No, I'm talking about explaining your communication style and how you function as a leader. It’s about communicating this to the whole team in a way that they understand and can work with.
All great leaders have this in common; they take the time to communicate their leadership style right from the beginning.
In this blog, I will give you some very simple advice on how to succeed in this first crucial step when joining or leading a new team. Let’s dive in!
Being a leader is a bit like being an orchestra conductor. No music comes out of the baton and you have little impact without your orchestra. Yet, without a conductor and their baton, there is no harmonious music. So, to seamlessly create something beautiful, an orchestra needs a conductor as much as a conductor needs an orchestra.
Let's continue this analogy. The conductor (or legal leader) will ensure that the piano of Compliance is not played too softly compared to the trumpets of Intellectual Property Law or the triangle of Corporate Law. In order to be harmonious, the legal symphony needs a true conductor who is capable of clearly articulating the symphony they wish to play and how they want it to be performed.
Imagine 80 musicians of an orchestra playing at the same time without the guidance of a conductor… A real treat for the ears…
This is why legal leaders must set the context in which their team will operate.
Instead of letting the team spend weeks or even months trying to figure out what is important to their new leader, great legal leaders provide their teams with the guidelines in which to operate from the get-go.
Ok, so how do we proceed? I find the most effective and simple method involves answering and communicating the following five questions:
I will - the things I will do for you
I won’t - the things I will not do for you
The do’s - the things to do with me
The don’ts - the things you should not do with me
How to communicate with me
It’s all about giving your team the knowledge they need to work with you in the best way possible. For example, I’m a control freak! I have struggled a lot with this tendency and I’m still working on it… So I tell my team this from day one and communicate what works for me and how they can best manage working with a control freak. For me, it's simple - I need to be reassured! When I send a message, I like to receive an "I'll take care of it" or a "thumbs up".
Tip 1: be honest
The most common mistake when presenting your leadership style is to describe yourself as the leader you aspire to be rather than the one you are. We often describe a leadership profile that resembles the ones we read about in books or articles that tell us how to be "the best manager ever" rather than honestly describing ourselves as we are now.
I'm not particularly proud to say that I'm a control freak but it's a fact, I am! The best I can do is to say so and, above all, to explain how I manage this aspect of my leadership style. After 25 years of leading teams, my control freak-ism has become much less of a blocker!
Tip 2: be clear from the outset
When joining or leading a new team, you must make things clear from the beginning. Trust me, it will save you heaps of time down the line!
To do this using the five questions above is actually very simple. You just have to provide concrete examples. Here are some examples.
I will: "I'm full of energy at 8am so you will likely receive a lot of emails from me early in the morning. However, please be aware that I don't expect you to respond to them immediately."
Another example: "I usually talk super fast so feel free to stop me and tell me if I'm talking too fast for you.”
The don’t: "I will not tolerate any form of discrimination in my team."
Another example: "I will not check on you during the day, but never miss a business deadline because I can't stand it when I hear that a member of my team didn't do their job."
By setting your expectations as well as what your team can expect from you from the start, you’ll save a lot of time (believe me!). So equip your team with the knowledge they need to communicate and collaborate more seamlessly.
Do you need to be copied in on all the emails involving the CEO? Then say it and offer an explanation so your team can understand why they have to do certain things.
Ask yourself “why is this important to me?”. In this example, perhaps it’s because as a legal director you report directly to the CEO. You don’t want to be caught off guard when the CEO mentions something that your team hasn’t told you about. This framework allows you to specify what you want to know and how you want to hear it.
Tip 3: give your team a voice
Taking the time to communicate your leadership style as well as the consequences and both positive and negative aspects of it is essential.
It is also important to invite your team members to ask questions to clarify anything that is unclear. Be sure to be open, honest and non-judgemental. Make your team feel comfortable so they can ask questions and seek clarity where needed.
This is not a dictatorship so make sure to also investigate the working style of your team members in return. To do so, I recommend you do the exercise the other way around, asking your team members to explain how they like to work. What’s their preferred working pattern? What are their pet peeves in the office? What motivates them?
As you can see, by clarifying everything from the beginning, you can avoid misunderstandings in the future - and hopefully avoid any dramas!
So, what’s your leadership style? Try answering these five questions. Is it clear to you and, more importantly, is it clear to your team?