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Leading by Example, for Good or Ill

One of my clients, a law firm, has been hiring some terrific lateral attorneys lately. It’s interesting to listen to their answers when I ask these new hires why they left their old firms. One of the most damning responses to that question was “I left because I couldn’t believe how poorly the partners treated each other and talked about each other. I knew I didn’t want to be a part of that culture, because I knew it was just a matter of time before they started doing it to me.”

Chew on that for a while. When this lawyer left her old firm, no one was doing anything particularly objectionable to her. Yet she was aware enough to witness the negative partner-to-partner behavior and commentary, and she decided that her pursuit of a career didn’t have to involve that sort of treatment, which she felt would inevitable happen to her.

Bad behavior arises when partners do a poor job of keeping their disagreements within the partnership. The arguments and poor behaviors filter through very quickly to the rest of the firm. It’s not unlike children who watch parents fight, then, unfortunately learn to fight the same way when they become adults. Like it or not, if you are a partner in a firm, you are in the role of professional parent. One of your many responsibilities is to raise the younger professionals to behave well. It’s in your best interests to remember that no matter what you say, the younger people will model your behavior more strongly than they will follow your directives.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009