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First Class by Way of Coach

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What do John Wooden, Don Shula, and Casey Stengel all have in common? All these men were great coaches, maybe more than just great, perhaps even legendary. Wooden compiled a record as a college basketball coach that stood until just recently. Don Shula remains the only pro football coach ever to coach a team to an undefeated season and win the Super Bowl. Casey Stengel took the New York Yankees to five consecutive World Series titles from 1949-1953.

Show me a terrific coach and I will show you an outstanding people developer. You see, the coach is not the athlete who is running, pitching, throwing, catching, or shooting hoops, but they are always watching from the sidelines and looking for ways to make their players the best they can be. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, many have been in their players’ shoes.

Over this past decade, coaching has entered and transitioned into the legal community separate and apart from managing. Much of managing involves logistics, such as scheduling and coordinating trial dates, supervising brief preparation and delivery, assuring motions are filed on time, metrics and reporting, all of which translates into the “Whats” of running a legal practice. What resources do we need? What do collections look like this month? How many new files do we have coming in? What is the probability of achieving our billings this quarter, this year? What caused our expense budget overrun on that bid we won?

Coaches, on the other hand, are typically much more interested in the “Hows:” How did that capabilities presentation go? How do we improve our approach to business development? How can we teach our legal team ways to build trust and deepen client relationships? How can we demonstrate our competence to prospects and clients starting with their very first phone call?

Now you may say these differences are subtle and that may be so. However, overzealous management with a jaundiced watchful eye has been the bane of many budding lawyers and even entire legal teams over the years. Hours of lost productivity, deferred opportunities, and poor morale can be directly attributed to the hard driving partner-type who was quick to point out publicly how a young lawyer erred on a given task or client call. A good coach looks to find something to build upon from every situation and looks to leverage and use these findings for the next opportunity. A great coach continues to build upon these good points, creating a strong platform built on an established solid foundation for success. Over time, a great coach’s recognition of the positives accumulates and provides an accretive and beneficial effect. On the flipside, a less than positive coach’s haranguing may produce a negative effect. That is not to say that a great coach isn’t above delivering a “swift kick…..” from time to time, but the dynamic is about helping, motivating and enabling the lawyer to achieve more by identifying errors, leveraging talents, and inspiring stellar performance.

Over these past ten years, the American workplace has undergone a “sea change” with a largely younger workforce now employed. However, as youth and education were ushered in, there was an exit of more experienced, shall we say “silver-heads.” Today, as Associates work their way up the ladder, their practice knowledge becomes more acute and an increased level of understanding drives an urgent need for business development skills.

No matter the firm, the invitation to shareholder comes with many new perquisites; however, it does not bestow automatic expertise in people development. In fact, freshly minted partners are often in need of help as they try to establish their client book and look toward motivation as they now prepare for solo flight. Today not only sports teams, but also successful individuals in many law firms and other professional services entities have turned to professional coaches to help them leverage their strengths, shore up their weaknesses, and sort through myriad opportunities for success.

Finding a good business coach requires perseverance and persistence. When you are ready for a coach, start by asking colleagues and business associates for referrals. Make a few calls and interview each potential coach.

There are two main ingredients required for a successful coaching matchup:

Familiarity with your job and your level.Find out about each prospective coach’s industry strengths and areas of expertise, look for a close match to your background, and needs. To illustrate, former USC football coach Pete Carroll was a great college coach but has not fully realized his potential coaching on the professional level. Look for a coach that has a successful track record coaching other lawyers, and can demonstrate it. Ask for a few proof sources to prove the point. By finding a coach experienced at working with lawyers will help put you more at ease when working with them. Think of it as communicating with a person in your native tongue versus a second language. While you may be able to effectively communicate in both languages, thought typically occurs in the native tongue and requires translation. It is in this translation that nuance can be lost and conversely where in this fine distinction a key differentiator to your success may actually be found.

Chemistry.Choosing the right coach for you is an important decision. Having good chemistry is an essential part of the relationship between you and your coach. You need to feel comfortable and secure with your coach and trust that they have your best interests at heart with no agenda other than helping you to succeed.

If you really strive to be a first class performer, our advice is to give strong consideration to finding and hiring a professional coach. As more and more law firms begin to recognize the value a business coach brings, many are willing to make or share the investment. However, do not let your decision rest solely upon whether the firm agrees to pay or not. You have no doubt already made a significant investment in your legal education, have probably made investments in stocks, bonds and perhaps children’s tutors, maybe even tennis, and golf lessons too. So why not invest in your ability to make rain? Investing in rainmaking can be highly lucrative and may turn out to be the best investment you ever make for your career.

Bill Taylor is president of Corporate Ladders, a business development consulting and coaching firm specializing in legal and other professional services companies. You can reach him with your questions or comments by phone at +1 201 825 8296 or email at .

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Guest Thursday, 19 October 2017

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