• resilience and drive
  • originality and creativity in thinking
  • an ability to visualize the future
  • team building
  • being an active communicator
  • and a facility for catalyzing others into action.

Now the bad news.

Do any of these traits—any of them—strike you as typical of lawyers? No, me neither. Shall we rehearse some of them quickly?

“Embracing risks?”

“A bias toward [seizing] opportunities?”


“Originality and creativity?”

“Visualizing the unknown?”

Searching for your firm’s next leader may not be for the faint of heart.

On the other hand, there is some good news here. CEO-types are driven by purpose, passion, and urgency; Lord knows lawyers can fill that bill. The worst thing a CEO can do is to sit on their hands.

Also, CEO-types want to go straight to the core of the issue. Putting aside the details to understand the larger context, or what engineers would call pulling the signal out of the noise. Yes, CEOs want to, should, and do draw on a myriad of sources and voices as they contemplate major decisions, but in the end they make the tough calls independently and follow their own sense of which are the critical priorities.

Finally, they are resoundingly “firm first” in approach and attitude. They care only for the organization and outcomes and results, not on how any of it might reflect on them personally. The best CEOs, contrary to much business literature, and resoundingly contrary to most popular coverage of business, are humble: They know what they don’t know, are open-minded, constantly learn, and readily seek advice. (Think Warren Buffett.)

But of all the gems in these two articles combined—and there are many and I again commend them to you—my favorite, since I passionately try to practice it in my own life and career, was this:

The most-successful CEOs also need to believe that the best idea wins and that they often obtain the best ideas based largely on how they work with others in a collaborative way.


Do note, however, that this approach to the world is 180° to the lawyer’s default position, which is more to the effect of, “I know the position we have to come out at, so I’m going to reason and argue backward from there to get to it.” That may be sound advocacy; it’s dreadful leadership.

It’s not about me and it’s not about you; this isn’t personal, it’s just business. May the best idea out in the end.


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