Not to name names, but does it strike you as it does me that we’re in the midst of a global surfeit of senior leaders behaving badly?
Almost every domain of human endeavor seems tarnished, or worse, by malfeasance, broken trust, power abused, or even quasi-psychotic behavior. #MeToo certainly has been among the most high-profile arenas–and fertile, if that can be taken in a sheerly descriptive and not complimentary sense: Senior politicians (state governors, presidential candidates, US senators, Cabinet officials), prominent journalists, Fortune 500 executives, celebrity pop stars, world-renowned conductors and actors, the list goes on and on.
And for my money the most ominous development is the as-yet-unknowable damage being done by populist leaders insisting on their own set of “alternative facts,” chipping away at the very bedrock of truth and falsity, and declaring themselves above the Rule of Law.
But this is not a column about #MeToo or the depravities of public officials.
It’s about what it means to be a leader as a lawyer and in life.
Quaintly, I have very high expectations for what constitutes an appropriate standard of behavior by a lawyer. You might find that context helpful to keep that in mind as you read on.
McKinsey provides some timely context with their publication last month of “Answering society’s call: A new leadership imperative“. While its focus is on retail and B2C markets, and apparel in particular, its themes are broad and here to stay: “Two-thirds of consumers around the world say they would switch, avoid, or boycott brands for their stances on controversial issues.” But there’s more to it than avoiding being conspicuously on the wrong side of hot-button issues. There’s also, among clients and your own internal colleagues at the firm, a conscious and articulated demand for leaders being “driven by a strong sense of moral responsibility,” and “purpose-driven empathy”–roughly, being able to motivate others to share your vision of the future through deep understanding of their emotional fears and desires.
A powerful starting point is programmatic self-examination: Once a year (for example), assemble your key teams around whatever initiatives the firm has pursued that year and have a candid conversation on the topic, “Knowing what we know today, what would we have done differently a year ago?” Twelve months later, repeat; twelve months later,…. This will not only instill humility in you, but put you empathetically in the shoes of your team members. And keep this always top of mind: “it’s not profit ahead of purpose and it’s not purpose ahead of profit—the way you make profit is by living out your purpose.”
Then there’s the flip side.