The Street Smart Law Blog

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  • Frederick L Shelton

Disagreement as a Leadership KPI


   I often tell my people this. Obviously, when they first start, I tell them what to do, how to do it etc. Basic and ongoing training is essential.

   But once they get up to speed, I expect and even demand disagreement. Because you can't come up with a new way to do things, if you agree with the old way.     I didn't hire my people to be robots. I hired them to think, to come up with ideas and to tell me what we can do in a different and better way. So I'm not looking for arguments but I'm aware that every idea and innovation begins with disagreement with the premise that the way we're doing things now, is good enough.

   No matter how good I am at what we do, my ideas alone, will never be as good as all of our ideas combined. This doesn't mean I approve of every idea that comes into my office. I may turn an idea down because I've tried it before or I have insights the presenter doesn't have. But I always thank the employee sincerely. Because if I don't show genuine interest and appreciation for the thoughts and ideas my people come up with, they will stop presenting them. That's bad management.

   This is pandemic among organizations such as law firms, that are run by faceless committees. Even a small committee is an extra layer of bureaucracy and thus, an impediment to implementing or even voicing new ideas and strategies.

Here's why: An attorney may tell their boss about a great idea but the best reply they can receive is "I'll take it to the committee."    From there, the idea either dies in the shadows of faded memory or as is often the case, is presented by someone who didn't think of it and therefore, has a fraction of the understanding or enthusiasm of the originator.  Worse yet, if the idea is excellent and well-received by management, they may take credit for it. This stifles innovation.

   Whether a law firm or other business, a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of leadership is dissent. If your employees aren't disagreeing with you or how things are done, you need to take a serious look at your leadership skills.

   Are you a "Know it All"? That's ego. As we say at Shelton & Steele "Never let your ego get in the way of your success." 

   Are you intimidating? Dismissive? Apathetic? Do your people openly disagree with you or the way things are done at least once in awhile? If not, there's a problem with leadership.

   Don't be "that boss".

   Be a leader.

A Few Tips for Change:

1. Talk to friends, family and colleagues who will be honest with you. Not those who will tell you what you want to hear but those who will feel secure and are likely to give you honest feedback. Once upon a time, I was shocked to discover that a couple of my employees found me intimidating! It wasn't tone or behavior so much as just the fact that I had over 20 years of experience and connections in our field. They were afraid their ideas would seem foolish to me. Learn from my mistake. I did.

2. Hold a meeting with one single agenda: Inspire innovation and dissent. Make it very clear that regardless of how things were before, the new priority is innovation. To that end, every idea will be considered and appreciated.

3. Hold regular meetings for the purpose of innovating. Your team may not come

    up with something at every meeting but one idea can scale a business 10x. Create

    an egalitarian environment where new ideas reap rewards.

4. Every time someone asks a question or forwards an idea, use this formula for your feedback:    a. Thank them for their question or idea.

   b. Praise them for asking or offering.

   c. Repeat it back to make sure you understand with clarity.

   d. Give them feedback that indicates their idea will be tried or if not, specifically

       why it may not be best ("Great minds think alike as I've done exactly that once.

       However, while it worked well with some clients, others actually found it off-


   e. If there is a committee or higher authority involved, ask them if they would

        prefer to present their idea, be there while you do so, or have you present the

        idea. This assuages any fear you'll dismiss, forget or take credit.

   f.  Thank them again and make clear you look forward to more.

   Do this with every question and every idea, every time and it will serve you well. 

Frederick Shelton

Shelton & Steele

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