It is axiomatic that leadership is influence, not title. But many lawyers still rely only on their titles, as equity partners, section heads or general counsels, to exert their authority over those below them. Title enables those lawyers to depend on rules, regulations, policies and fear of getting fired to control their followers. They have subordinates, not team members.
When people follow you only because they have to, the quality of their work declines, enthusiasm for their jobs wanes, and team spirit erodes over time. Office morale gradually fades. The subordinates are miserable and look for the first opportunity to leave.
Those title-only lawyers are not leaders. They are managers, and not very capable ones at that. Often they never rise to the next level of leadership in which people follow because they want to.
John Maxwell, one of the foremost experts on leadership, created the following Five Level Model of Leadership that provides a roadmap for your development as a leader, a person who influences all those around you, not only direct reports, but colleagues and even bosses.
Maxwell’s Five Level Leadership Model
People follow because of who you are and what you represent.
People Development (4th)
People follow because of what you have done for them.
People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
People follow you because they want to.
People follow you because they have to.
As you can see, Position is at the entry level of leadership–the lowest level.
Let’s focus on moving from the 1st to the 2nd level for purposes of this discussion because Permission is really the threshold requirement for effective leadership.
How can you succeed in functioning on the second level of leadership? Permission leaders are bosses with title, but the people who follow them feel liked, cared for, included, valued, and trusted.
Everything changes once a boss stops depending on his/her title. The whole work environment improves. Associates are not just complying with orders. They want to follow the partners in charge. Now it is the relationship between associate and partner that is at the heart of obedience. The title exists but the relationship inspires.
If you are a lawyer who has gained a position with a leadership title, what have you done to build influence with those below you so that people follow you because they want to?
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