Building Your Leadership Skills

 By Charles A. Volkert III, Esq.

Having strong leadership skills is critical for legal professionals to advance their careers. Supervising and motivating others allows you to inspire your team to accomplish more and achieve key objectives.

Even if you’ve been in a managerial role for many years, your job has no doubt evolved over time. The skills that allowed you to succeed early in your career may not be the same ones you’ll need in the future. Increasingly, you’ll be called upon to direct teams and encourage staff to work together more effectively. That means leadership skills will become more essential as you move forward.

While some people seem to have natural talents for leadership, most find it takes a bit of effort. Here are five ideas that can help enhance your leadership skills:

  1. Focus on professional development. Taking seminars and classes through professional associations and local universities can help you keep your leadership abilities up to date. Courses don’t need to be legal-specific to be useful. For instance, you might consider topics like public speaking, budgetary management or written communication. Earning an advanced degree or an accreditation such as Certified Legal Manager (CLM) can also demonstrate to employers that you have the ambition and qualifications needed to assume greater leadership responsibilities.
  2. Learn to listen.  The best managers are excellent communicators. This goes beyond just explaining things clearly – it also requires active listening. Talk with your staff members and find out about their priorities. Do they want to acquire new skills? Take on more challenging work in their current positions? Move into a senior role within the firm? Showing a sincere interest in your employees’ goals will help you understand what it might take to motivate various individuals on your team. To be an effective listener, you must focus completely on each conversation. Never interrupt the speaker, even when you think you have valuable input. Always wait until the person has finished speaking before commenting.  You’ll show that you’re taking the conversation seriously and not prejudging the individual’s message.
  3. Volunteer for new projects. Don’t hesitate to take on work that falls outside your normal scope of responsibility. Making time for different and challenging assignments will help you enhance your skill set and give you a broader understanding of the way the firm operates – an important advantage as you assume greater leadership. Pursue opportunities outside your organization to acquire additional experience directing projects and individuals in a different context. For example, you could serve on a committee for a group such as the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) or provide assistance to a local charity. Volunteer-driven organizations will welcome your guidance, and you’ll be able to put your management abilities to use in ways that may not be available at your firm.
  4. Serve as a mentor. Another way to build your leadership skills is to become an advisor to a new or junior employee at your firm. There are likely many individuals who can benefit from your experience and expertise. By serving as a mentor, you’ll enhance leadership abilities such as interpersonal communication and collaboration. You’ll also gain satisfaction in knowing you’ve helped someone advance his or her career. If your company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, consider starting one. You might also seek opportunities through local business associations. Often these groups will pair people just starting their careers with senior-level professionals who can provide guidance on getting ahead.
  5. Invite constructive criticism. Supplement your efforts by asking others for objective feedback. Inform trusted co-workers of your desire to improve, and solicit suggestions. Many times what we see as a professional strength is actually a weakness and vice versa, so another’s perspectives can prove invaluable. Take recommendations you receive as specific points of direction toward your personal advancement. 

With additional training and practice, you can greatly enhance your leadership abilities. The improvements you make now can have lasting benefits as you increase your marketability and position yourself for new management responsibilities in the future.