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10 Leadership Strategies To Get Ahead (From A Former Olympian)

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

Has a boss ever made a strong, positive impact on your life? It takes real skill to be able to manage your own demanding workload and lead a team well; in the legal industry it’s not something we experience often.

However, it’s a role that appeared to be second nature to former Olympic wrestler Howard Stupp. He was Head of the International Olympic Committee for 36 years.

During his tenure, he grew the legal team from one to 18 members (and only had to fire two). He credits his success to creating a strong team spirit and a sense of togetherness.

“Togetherness” is not a familiar concept to us lawyers; we’re used to “silo working” and I’m sure many of you will agree that leadership does not come naturally to us all!

Some people have no business being a boss!

Howard’s insights into what it takes to be a truly effective and well-respected leader are threaded all the way through our recent conversation on the Water+Air podcast.

Howard embraced leadership as a responsibility

rather than using it as a weapon of power and control.

Anyone can be a boss and bark orders, but Howard adopted a far more effective strategy.

Here are 10 of his leadership strategies to help you get ahead

1) Be the boss (don’t just tell)

Howard: “You shouldn’t have to say, ‘I am the leader, listen to me.’ When you conduct yourself as a boss (unselfish, honest, decent, doing the right thing, listening, treating people fairly and with respect), your team will respect you.”

Howard had clearly been dedicated to his role and made it look effortless. Considering how much we all want to win for our clients (and for ourselves!), his second insight was a revelation.

2) Cut corners when necessary (time is not unlimited)

Howard: “I taught my team that time is not unlimited. I wanted them to deliver based on the exact requirements of our departments or stakeholders. For example, I did not want them to provide a Rolls Royce level of service if a model car would have sufficed. I learnt this for myself, then I taught my team. You have to learn to do what needs to be done, and when to cut corners.”

We know that the legal industry is competitive. We each want to do our best and be the best, so Howard’s third point is food for thought.

3) Hire the best people (don’t be afraid that they will outshine you)

Howard: “Don’t be afraid; you should feel confident enough in yourself as a leader to hire really great people. To build a strong department, you need to have the courage to hire well.”

4) Listen to each member of your team

Howard: “It’s really important that people feel listened to; this also helps you facilitate the distribution of work. All the players in the team need to feel they are being listened to and treated fairly.”

Making time to listen to team members is easier said than done in a fast-paced and highly political environment full of competing interests, but as Howard explained, putting it into practice can help create a more effective and efficient team.

5) Distribute work based on each person’s capability and skill

Howard: “Not all lawyers are equal. Distribute the workflow according to experience, skill, speciality and availability. When you listen to your team, you have a better understanding of how to facilitate the division of work.”

6) Be clear on your expectations

Howard: “A good leader makes their expectations clear, and their team knows that if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, there will be repercussions.”

7) Allow freedom and set boundaries

Howard: “My team knew when to come to me and not make mistakes or go down the wrong path. I had an open-door policy but they didn’t waste my time with petty questions.

It’s evident from what Howard has shared so far that he took on full responsibility in his role as leader, and that “togetherness” formed the backbone of everything that he did.

8) Share knowledge, and support and help each other

Howard: “Everyone in the team needs to feel like their back is covered. The leader has to set an example; practise what you preach. When the leader shares their knowledge and wisdom with the team, the team itself shares their accumulated knowledge and wisdom with each other – that’s the way it should be.”

9) Simplicity should be at the core of all that you do

Howard: “It’s important that other departments think of a legal team as ‘helpful’. When they need you, you want them to come to you sooner rather than later and not view you as the team that makes things more complicated.

I would tell my staff to keep things simple. If you make things complicated, other departments will not come to us and problems might arise later due to that decision.”

10) Believe in yourself

Howard: “A true leader has to be themselves and grow into the role. They have to feel good about themselves and how they lead; that helps their team feel the same.”

What Howard has shared shows that he viewed his leadership responsibilities as a servanthood.

He genuinely wanted to make things easier, better and as simple as possible for his team and everyone the legal department supported.

Without a doubt, you’ll have loved or loathed leaders you’ve worked for in the past! Come and share your experiences with me on LinkedIn, and let me know which of Howard’s top 10 strategies you’ll adopt first when it’s time for you to step out of the crowd and lead.


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