Armanino Blog

Leadership vs. Management

by David Roberts
April 12, 2012

Your law firm likely has many managers—attorneys and staff who oversee people, financials, technology, facilities, and the daily tasks associated with running a Law Firm. But is there a true Leader?

Although these two roles overlap to a degree (even in the same individual), and, obviously, managers and leaders must work closely together, they aren’t the same. True leaders usually don’t just miraculously emerge from your partner ranks. And as law firms try to adapt and operate successfully in a climate of increased complexity, industry consolidation, economic turbulence and significant and growing competition—they need leadership.

Simply ensuring high levels of technical competence and client service is no longer sufficient. Law firms desperately need leadership. At its most fundamental level, leadership is about vision and change while management focuses on tasks and processes.

Making the Time to Lead
It’s simple to see how the distinction between leadership and management plays out in a Fortune 500 company, but how does it translate to your law firm? The top person at your firm is likely your managing partner (or partners). It’s an unfortunate fact that many talented law firm leaders get bogged down with administrative issues associated with collections, compensation, facilities, personnel, and technology needs.

Oh yes, then there is the client work—where do you find the time to assume a true leadership role where you:

  • Develop strategy and build consensus
  • Drive innovation in the delivery of legal services and the marketing of those services
  • Mentor lawyers and build teams
  • Assist other partners with client retention and expansion
  • Further develop your firm-wide culture.

Basically, when do you build a thriving and sustainable law firm?

But even if yours is a small firm, you need to give your managing partner the opportunity to be a leader. It may require him or her to hand over management tasks to a chief operating officer or rely more heavily on the firm’s administrator. Whatever the option, to lead requires training, time and A+ capable people by your side to help with the day-to-day operations.

Primary Objectives
Your firm’s current challenges will, to a large degree, determine how you spend your time. But it’s important to remember that leadership is future-oriented, so your leader’s primary focus should be to create a vision for the future, design an innovative and competitive strategy, develop a strong culture and attract and develop committed talent. Too many potential

Leaders lose this focus and get bogged down in the day-to-day operation issues.

Envisioning the future and backing up that vision with innovative ideas is only half of a leader’s job. The other half is getting buy-in from the rest of the firm, which takes passion, commitment, superior communication, strong interpersonal skills and respect from the other partners.

We know that technical excellence and intellect are critical factors for success as a professional, but emotional intelligence is the critical factor for success as a leader. Since few people are born leaders, your firm may need help to develop the skills and competencies necessary for someone to become a leaders.

The Imperative
Good managers are crucial to building a successful organization, but it takes a true leader to harness those skills and build something unique.  Leading a firm to success is no easy task, it requires a clear vision, talented people, and the charisma to gain the trust and support of all those you lead.

Firms can no longer assume that leaders will simply emerge from somewhere within the partner ranks. The quickly changing environment puts law firms of all sizes at greater risk and makes leadership, and leadership development, an imperative for tomorrow’s successful law firm.

April 12, 2012

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