What makes a great leader?

The Future Leaders Committee election (FLCE) is launching soon and providing huge opportunities for the next generation of lawyers to step up and lead the legal profession. No longer will they be following leaders, they will BE the leaders.

I think we know bad leadership when we see it. I think we mostly put up with good or mediocre leadership but great leadership; the kind of leadership that leaves a lasting impression is harder to find.

It doesn’t come from a position description or a business card, it comes from putting in the hard work, discovering who you are, experimenting and failing, changing your mindset, developing a new range of skills and above all, putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. You might be promoted into a formal leadership position but if you don’t actually influence anyone or have any genuine followers, then you’re not a leader, you’re just someone who sits on the top of a reporting line.

When it comes to great leadership, there’s no one size fits all. Leadership is a mindset and skillset that must be developed authentically and over time. So, how do you do this?

Connect with your why

As a leader, to gain commitment and feel empowered in your role, you must first connect with your legacy and purpose. This is your ‘why’. Too many of us get caught up in WHAT we do, but the first question must always be WHY we do it.

Why do you get up every morning? How do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy you want to leave in your leadership role? Connecting with your legacy allows you to jump out of bed each day with energy and purpose. Through your leadership role, you’ll create a lasting influence on the people, organisations, and causes you are involved in, which will one day add up to something others perceive to be your legacy. Now is the time to stop and consider what that lasting influence will be.


When you define your legacy, you give your work purpose. You can lead with a clear objective. You know who you are and what your life is about. Your why will be personal and unique to you. It’s time to succinctly define it and start making your leadership legacy a reality by putting into place congruent thoughts, behaviours and actions. If your legacy isn’t defined, you risk spending your time and energy on things that aren’t important and you end up feeling like what you do doesn’t matter.

Find your magic

We all have our own leadership ‘magic’. A set of unique skills and abilities that make you, YOU. Your leadership magic is unique to you. Call it your talent, natural skill, strength, gift, whatever… It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you discover it and use its full potential.

Your magic will contribute to your greatest strength as a leader. It will be what you’re known for. Your magic will captivate others and build your reputation and leadership brand. It’s the gift you have to share with your people.

Sometimes, your magic will find you. It’s easy to recognise and identify. But sometimes, it’s hidden deep inside and only the right circumstances or opportunity will bring it out. Finding your magic may mean trying new things and seeing what feels right, particularly when you’re starting out in a leadership position.

If you think about successful leaders you have worked with, you will notice they all had their own unique magic. Something that made them different from everyone else.

What’s your difference? When you play to your strengths, you take the lead. Why would you step away from centre stage to make room for something you’re not good at, something you don’t enjoy and doesn’t come naturally to you? The spotlight shines brightest when you use your magic to do your best work, the work you’re meant to do.


Choose your attitude

The most important words you will ever say are the words you say to yourself. It’s your inner dialogue that impacts your mood and your self-belief. So, what stories do you tell yourself? What’s the script running through your head? What limits have you put in place? You can talk yourself into or out of anything. When you put negative thoughts into your conscious mind, you act a certain way.

You have the power to transform your negative and limiting beliefs into useful, motivating beliefs that are authentic and tap into the real you. Every time you recite those positive beliefs, you reaffirm and strengthen them. Before you can become a confident leader, you must think like one.

Create a powerful presence

As a leader, your distinctive presence is what inspires people to trust you and want you to lead them. People sense your confidence and will commit to your vision. Presence opens the door to greater leadership responsibilities. Your influence will grow and further opportunities will come your way. You will be noticed by others and they will want to hear your opinion and value your contribution.

Presence starts from within. Your presence is based on knowing who you are, and having purpose. It comes from knowing you have control over your own actions. This is your personal power and your people will sense this from you. It will make them feel secure and proud to be a part of your team.

To create presence, you must consider how you communicate. Remember as a leader, you’re always communicating whether or not you’re speaking. You must create a strong leadership message and make it stick. Take time to prepare your message and deliver it with sincerity and conviction.

Finally, check the “outer” you – your personal appearance. Feel comfortable in your own skin and your clothes. 250 milliseconds is the amount of time it takes someone to size up your competence, likability and trustworthiness, even before any words are spoken. Dress to enhance your professional appearance and portray your authentic self. Your people will recognise your authenticity and respond positively to you.


Focus on what matters

As a leader, every day can feel like rush hour with everyone wanting your time. Some leaders allow their day to be dictated by others and then get to the end of the day or the week and realise they haven’t achieved anything important. Don’t be distracted by things that seem urgent but in the bigger picture are not important.

In leadership, you have to take control of your own time and learn to say no. However, you’ll only be able to say no confidently if you have a bigger yes inside of you. That bigger yes comes from knowing your legacy, your magic and how you add the most value to your organisation.

Now you have stepped into a leadership role, it’s time to think and act differently. You must let go of being the expert and DOING the work. Now you’re main responsibility is inspiring and creating the right environment for others to do the work. It’s time to delegate and coach and mentor your team. Challenge them to learn and grow. Be fully present and take time out every day to plan and prepare. Show up ready to perform at your best.

Set a clear vision

Every team needs a clear vision to keep them focussed on what’s truly important. Your team members will have parts of their role that annoy them, leave them feeling frustrated, parts they hate, but are necessary. You need to motivate your team to get through these time toughs by allowing them to imagine the outcome.

If your team don’t have something to look forward to, they’ll become disengaged and stagnant. You might get compliance but you won’t get commitment. Your people won’t go above and beyond. There’ll be no buzz, no positive energy. When things get a little tough, people will give up. They’ll procrastinate. You’ll have people ringing in for that sick day, giving you pushback, and only looking forward to 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.

You can engage and empower your people to get through the hard work by speaking to their imagination. You need to create a future vision that appeals to all their senses, that grabs their attention and connects with their hearts.


Play the coach

A strong team needs a strong coach; someone who uses their skills to inspire people to improve their performance. An effective coach embraces collaboration and innovation in their team. They value differences and allow everyone to play to their strengths.

A coach shares a strong message to the team but also listens empathically to the problems of each team member. Most of all, they believe in their people and as a result the whole team feels valued. It’s all about focussing on the team’s results and getting to the finishing line together.

Discover their talent

It’s vital that each team member’s talents are identified and nurtured. Their talents must be rewarded to build confidence and motivation. You can play a critical role in facilitating their learning and development. Make it easy for them to grow their self-awareness, knowledge and expertise. If you can focus on the development of your people, you will build a team that is engaged, committed and performing at its best.  

Once you have discovered the talents of your people, it’s time to give them meaningful work that allows them to use these talents to their full potential. Let them shine! Take a step back and get out of their way. Let them find their own solutions and methods and, of course, let them fail (tough, I know).

When team members play to their strengths, you’re stronger as a team. It’s important that everyone understands each other’s roles and responsibilities and each is equally valued and celebrated.


Take time to play

It’s important each team takes time to have fun and play. Play stimulates your mind and imagination, it also increases creativity and promotes problem-solving. It’s a great stress reliever and gives you permission to try new things and experiment. When people play together, it builds deep connections within the team. It boosts comradery and builds corporate empathy.

When your people laugh in the office it activates both sides of the brain. Laughter kick starts their limbic system which connects the brain’s right and left sides. This leads to greater learning opportunities and an abundance of creativity.

Happier, livelier workplaces tend to be high-energy and highly productive. Your people will actually enjoy coming to work, they’ll feel part of a team and want to perform at their best. It’s your job to model this behaviour and be the first one to have fun and encourage playfulness in your team.

Creates a sense of belonging

Now more than ever before, people are looking to their work and their organisations for a sense of belonging. This feeling of being connected to others is intuitive. Your people want to feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves. People once gained this sense of belonging from their church, extended family, or community groups but as many of us no longer have these close ties in our lives, we’re looking towards our workplaces to fulfil this need. They want to feel connected with their organisation, their leader, their team members and the work that they do every day. You can create this sense of belonging by creating a strong team culture. It’s important to have a set of values as a foundation for your team. These values will create meaning and motivation and tie your people together.

In today’s world of complexity and disruption, law firms need their leaders to step up and create an opportunity for innovation and change. They need to create an environment where lawyers feel inspired to do their very best work. 

Law firms need great leaders, like you.

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