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Top partners better leaders: study

Top partners better leaders: study

A LAW FIRM’S top performers are those most likely to break the stereotype of the lawyer as a cold, calculating star performer, interested only in winning the case, newly released research…

A LAW FIRM’S top performers are those most likely to break the stereotype of the lawyer as a cold, calculating star performer, interested only in winning the case, newly released research suggests.

A top global law firm was the guinea pig for a recent study of the leadership styles of 33 partners. Hay Group researchers studied 13 high performing partners with 20 average performing partners, judged by the revenue they brought in, the strength of their client relationships, and their substantive skills. Each partner was assessed by those associates they had led on particular matters.

The study revealed that outstanding partners used a broader range of leadership styles than their average performing colleagues. The researchers identified six styles as being particularly popular, including what they termed directive, visionary, affiliative, participative, pacesetting and coaching. Almost 70 per cent of the outstanding performers used four or more of these styles, compared to 40 per cent of average performers.

Top performers were twice as likely to be affiliative, which included them expressing concern for individuals as people with personal needs, and not just as “revenue-generating billing machines”, the study revealed.

The best partners, however, drew on a directive style, by which they were five times as likely to give specific directions and demand immediate action. This was generally used by the top performers as one of a number of leadership styles, the study showed. These partners occasionally “barked” at associates, but also coached and involved them in processes.

But partners should be careful with the directive style, the research suggested. Average performers that used this style tended to use it more exclusively, which can intimidate and discourage associates.

There are no inherently bad styles, the head of Hay Group’s Leadership Development Practice in New York, Susan Snyder, said. “The directive style, though often perceived negatively, is very effective when used in critical, high-risk situations — and as part of a range of styles. The key is to use the appropriate style for the situation. When that happens, associates are more engaged and productive, and generate better results for the firm.”

Partners should increasingly use styles that drive performance long-term. Outstanding performers in the study were more visionary, and provided their teams with much needed perspective and context, the researchers said. As well, top performers were twice as likely to participate, and engaged associates and peers in important discussion and decisions. They were effective coaches and provided long-term development and mentoring, the research found.

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