My friend Ed Reeser has written extensively, in blogs, Legal On Ramp posts and articles, on leadership issues in law school. If you know Ed, you know that he is the kind of person who leads from the front and he is the kind of leader you love to follow wherever he goes. So when he writes about leadership, I read very closely. His latest piece, The Lost Art Of Leadership, published in today’s Los Angeles Daily Journal, is worth a careful read.
Ed begins with one of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." The gist of Ed’s argument is that law firm leaders have failed this essential test of leadership; they have lost touch with the people that make up the firm, and in so doing have brought the firm to its knees. People are the real key, and they are being sacrificed in the name of expediency. According to Ed:
Partners in leadership positions are increasingly not leaders, but those with enough power to demand positions and allocate to themselves, and their friends, increasing shares of money and other rewards. The confusion of the position of leader, with the fulfillment of the role of a leader, has never been more apparent. The short-term approach of present day law firm management appears to have more in common with a smash and grab visit to a Tiffany’s counter than exercise of fiduciary concern for one’s partners or a long-term responsibility for colleagues’ careers.
Harsh, to be sure, but true? This is an area where there is no "right" answer and no data to suggest an answer. But let me share this anecdote. I just returned from lunch with two of the leading and most respected law firm consultants in the world. I assumed their business was booming because certainly in these trying times, leaders would be looking for insights and a sounding board to discuss new ideas and approaches to bring their firms back to economic rightness. Nope, not happening. I suppose its possible that firms really are seeking insights and fresh ideas, but have simply gone to other consultants. Not likely though. Instead of saving careers and being a true leader, isn’t it much easier to eliminate a few jobs and cut back on coffee?
At the end of the day, it is, perhaps, too much to expect that most people running law firms would act as true leaders. Real leadership, after all, is really one of the rarest traits. That is why we so marvel at it when we see it.