Unexpected Lawyers: Robert Louis Stevenson

Author of Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, RLS was not really interested in the family business of lighthouse building. Preferring to devote his life to writing, he agreed with his father to take a law degree at Edinburgh University as a form of security, and was indeed called to the Bar in Scotland in 1875. However, he never practised.

Dead at 44, he covered many genres from horror to historical fiction to children’s books to travel writing. He was a pioneer of the idea of hiking for pleasure, indeed at least one travel company will organise a family walking holiday, including donkey.


Situational Leadership

All of us have a preferred leadership style, based on our individual personality, philosophy, and what we find works. We fall in different places on the scale of consultation and direction.

The concept of situational leadership is that we should tailor our approach to the particular situation that we face. Part of this is who we manage. “Knowledge workers” such as lawyers are trained to exercise their own judgment and build their professional expertise. They do not take well to being told what to do. Soldiers, on the other hand, are trained to obey orders.

Yet soldiers also need to be able to show initiative and make their own decisions (think peacekeeping or guerilla war). And lawyers sometimes need to do what they are told.

An example of circumstances where one particular approach is necessary, think of a firm in financial crisis. This is probably not a time when everyone can exercise their own particular judgment, not least because there may not be enough time to gather necessary information. Sometimes events require a “ready, fire, aim” approach, and the Boss need to take a decision and ensure that everyone else makes it work.

Christmas Reading – A Christmas Carol

No apology for repeating this annual Book of the Month for December. It is after all a seasonal classic. While most people know the basic story, this may be from the Muppet version, and many have never read the book itself. Most film and TV versions are much too jolly, other than Alastair Sim’s portrayal seen on Channel 5 yesterday.

Unlike much of Dickens, the narrative is coherent (and short) and the cast small, so it can be fitted in over the holiday.

The business link? This is a book about work/life balance, about work and money not being the only things in life. And the figures of Want and Ignorance also make an appearance. Those are lessons that new people have to learn every year.

You can buy it from Amazon here, but be aware that TUESDAY is the last day for first class delivery orders.

And the Alastair Sim DVD of “Scrooge” here.

Lloyds Chief’s Sleep Deprivation

The revelation that new Lloyds Bank chief Antonió Horta-Osório has been suffering from sleep deprivation rather than stress gives pause for thought. Daily Telegraph interview is here.

Obviously, Mr Horta-Osório has learned some lessons, both for himself and his firm, and policies and expectations will change. However, no leader should end up in the Priory before learning them.

On aircraft we are taught to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others, to ensure that we are functioning and continue to function. The same applies to leaders: they can have no effect on their organisation if they are off sick. The leader must therefore first take care of his own mental and physical wellbeing.

Naturally, when taking over leadership of an organisation in crisis the temptation (and perhaps necessity) is to make a quick impact. And you need to inspire the company to take action. But it is impossible to get a handle on everything in a short time. And in a turnaround situation, there will never be enough time to gather all necessary information before action needs to be taken. Sometimes it has to be “ready, fire, aim”.

Service Quality Fail

As tweeted earlier, I phoned the surgery this morning to make an appointment, and was told that my doctor has retired and that I am now on somebody else’s list. It is only because I happened to call that I found out.

I confess to being slightly miffed. I am not a regular doctor botherer, but I have been her patient for 20 odd years, and this is simply not the way to do it. Although the personal relationship with a GP is admittedly in decline.

In solicitors’ firms where I have worked, the practice was to write to clients informing them that X was retiring, and that Y would in future deal with their work. Some effort was expended to ensure a smooth handover, to ensure that the client was not lost to the firm. Additionally it was a requirement of the 2007 Code of Conduct.

It may be the vulnerability of the client relationship to a change in personnel that may be the key. GP’s can be more certain that patients always need doctors and have a degree of inertia.

ABC of Business Planning: Law Matters

Our latest Law Matters Newsletter deals with the ABC of Business Planning

“ABC of Business Planning

ABC: Always Be Clear

For some law firms, their business plan runs to the calendar year. For others, it follows the fiscal year. Either way, remember: Always Be Clear.

Clarity means that, however small your firm, the plan needs to be….”

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Musings on Management Styles

I was talking over coffee yesterday with a lawyer who had a background in the corporate world in a previous life. Somehow we got to talking about Steve Jobs at Apple, and his style of “managing by walking around, and scaring people”. The first half of that, MBWA, is a recognised style, and tends to make the manager more observant as well as less aloof and more approachable. The “scaring people” part will not be found in any modern management textbook.

The other man to spring to mind is Gordon Ramsay. He has to some extend developed a sweary persona for the TV cameras, but he takes no prisoners in the kitchen. Again, this is not a recommended management style.

Yet both inspire loyalty, and both are successful. This is particularly so with Jobs, given the size of Apple. And when he left the company, and it was run by a corporate manager, it went downhill and he had to come back to rescue it. Meanwhile, he had made a success of Pixar.

Why can this approach work? Firstly, a manager is there to get things done, not to be anybody’s best mate. Secondly, both men gain respect for their knowledge of the core of the business – their authority does not just come from the positions they hold. Thirdly, the business is their own baby, and their approach reflects their ownership of, and passion for, it. Lastly, they appear not to pick on individuals, and are set off by things being less than perfect. And they do not bear grudges.

While “firm but fair” is generally a good approach, please do not go into the office tomorrow and start swearing at your staff and colleagues. It only makes work for lawyers……..