What does success look like for you? Have you considered that promotion might not be it?
Wouldn’t it be a real shame to spend even one day doing something that you don’t love?
If you take the time to explore the legal career lifestyle you want, you’re far more likely to think twice before signing up to an offer that may not be the best fit.
Who wants to spend 15+ years in a role they don’t want, purely because the legal culture tells you that being promoted is an indicator of success?
If you’ve been a regular reader of my blogs for a while now, you’ll know that I’m on a mission to support legal professionals like you to avoid burnout (check out my earlier blog) and create success on your terms – and I am passionate about finding ordinary ways to create extraordinary transformation.
When it comes to optimising promotion and navigating the hidden pitfalls, Christine Baker, Executive Coach and Human Capability Expert, comes to mind.
Christine is the founder of Requisite Development. She supports senior executives to lead with excellence. In this blog, I’m going to share five of her top tips to support you to make fantastic career choices that will leave you happy and fulfilled (and at the very least, not burnt out or miserable!).
You can hear our full conversation (brimming with wisdom) on the Water+Air podcast.
1) Be clear about the expectations
Christine: “When we get excited about the prospect of promotion, it’s very easy to jump in without making a fully informed decision; that’s as true for the individual as for the firm making the offer of promotion. It’s important to be clear on the demands of the new role, the intellectual and cognitive challenges, and the emotional stresses and strains of working in that particular role.
There needs to be clarity for both sides, and that requires honest analysis and reflection before saying yes.”
2) Make sure you and your manager know what inspires and stimulates you intellectually and emotionally
Christine: “Not everybody wants to be a manager. Being capable and confident in the role is not what will drive your satisfaction if what you actually enjoy is being a great technical specialist where you get the buzz out of analysis. The thought of being responsible for somebody else, of worrying about performance, career development or their wellbeing, is just not a good fit for everyone. If you’re catapulted into that role and you don’t love it, it becomes stressful for everyone concerned.
You can train someone to go through the mechanics of a role, but if their heart isn’t in it, it will affect the work culture. It’s pernicious. It might not cause obvious chaos or disruption, but it will eat away at goodwill, at productivity and the desire to want to do that role.”
3) Be willing to expand your thinking
Christine: “The demands on our capability change as we move up through an organisation. It’s not just about knowledge or skills, it drills down to solving problems and making decisions. As you move into higher roles, the challenges become more unpredictable, ambiguous, and the variables that shape the problem are not always clear; and that requires more ‘expansive thinking.’ It’s like comparing dominoes and diamonds: when you knock over one domino, all the others fall into place at a fairly predictable rate according to the laws of physics. It’s a linear form of action [like the problems you’re likely to solve at a junior level].
But, when you look at a diamond, you’ll see that its shape is not uniform; it has lots of different facets. Depending on how you turn the diamond, you see life in a different way. Similarly, you might see a problem in one way and think you know the solution, but as you shift and see a new perspective, you realise there’s more to it and it requires more thought [like the problems you’re likely to face at a more senior level].
The mark of a complex thinker is someone who not only identifies that there are multiple variables to consider, but who can also hold those variables in their mind at the same time and come up with a richer perspective and understanding of what the problem is, as well as the pros and cons of each solution.”
If you feel like your style of thinking is more domino (linear) than diamond (multi-faceted), you might like to check out the FM: Catalyse Leadership Mastermind to help you move towards more expansive thinking.
4) Build mutual respect
Christine: “You need to be able to recognise that your perception of a particular situation may differ from someone else's. When you can see that there may be value in someone else’s idea, it enhances your own power. The language that you use, and the way that you intervene, is really important, because it’s easy to appear the ‘smartest’ person in the room and, as a result, be seen as demeaning to other people.
It’s important to remain sensitive to this and ensure that when you do make a comment or suggestion, you phrase it in such a way that the other person can see that you’re looking to add value to the discussion rather than destroy their line of argument. As a leader, you need to be aware of the emotional maturity of your team members so that you get the best out of them; creative, constructive conflict can be good for the team, but that’s not about one person winning an argument over another.
We’ve all been in rooms with really smart people where there’s no respect because it’s all about winning the argument for the sake of an individual rather than the sake of the team. Before you open your mouth, take a breath, ask yourself what your intentions are, and when you share your thoughts, let people know that you’re adding something new that may not have been discussed so far. I know how competitive the legal industry is, so that can be quite a shift to make; start by being conscious of who you want to be, and who you don’t want to be!”
I particularly loved the concept of enhancing a group conversation, because we lawyers know how silo working can make us always compete to be the best, rather than working for the good of “our team”.
5) Stay alert to shift
Christine: “Over time, we grow as individuals, and whether we like it or not, something starts to shift. Stay alert to that shift and question what it means. Does it mean you no longer emotionally or cognitively match your role? Is there something else going on that you need to question so that you can take appropriate action to make sure nothing is misunderstood? Some things are interpreted as bad behaviour or bad dynamics, but it’s often just because attention hasn’t been paid. Try to be informed at the beginning, but stay alert to the fact that things may change and your feelings around leading people may also shift over time.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed the wealth of knowledge and insight that Christine shared. If you follow her advice, you’ll be in a strong position to make the right career choice for you; it’s vital to listen to your own needs as much as exploring the demands of any new role you are considering.
When we strip it back to the fundamentals, you can buck the trend of climbing the ranks of the legal industry and make your technical excellence and skills work harder and smarter for you, if that’s what suits you best. If you’re looking for more joy and fulfilment in your legal career, why not check out the range of programmes I offer in order to support you to thrive, whether you’re part of a team or leading from the front.
P.S. Do you subscribe to the Water+Air podcast? We have listeners from more than 143 cities spanning 24 countries!
Christine is an Executive Coach and Human Capability Expert.
Christine Baker can be found here:
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: