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Is Leading a Law Firm That Different ...

...from leading a Super Bowl team?

With the Super Bowl upon us, I can't help but think of exceptional leaders that have taken their squads to the ultimate crown.

Amazing leaders like Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

What inspirations these two were for their teammates - fellow veterans, as well as rookies.

Interesting, these two superstars - icons in the sports world - would much prefer to talk about their teammates, and their potential and contributions, rather than themselves.

It is well known that Brady and Brees were always clarifying to their teammates throughout the football season what the team goals were, and stressing how they all had to work together to achieve these objectives.

They led and got the absolute best from their teammates. How? By showing that they cared... really cared about them and their individual roles in helping the team become the best they could be.

As Tom Brady said following a key victory: "I love being part of a team; I love working toward a common goal. And, I have a deep caring for the people I work with."

During their stellar careers, Tom and Drew paid particular attention to - and demonstrated in their actions - a little extra care toward the younger, up-and-coming players on their teams.

They instilled in the younger talent ideals around what their franchise stood for in terms of value, purpose and meaning. They helped the younger group understand what wearing that jersey meant. They stressed how to live up to the team's ideals.

Of course, their results speak for themselves.

Funny, leaders of law firms are somewhat like those franchise players with their responsibility to attract and then inspire a hungry group of high-priced, young talent.

Where should the focus be for law firm leaders these days to attract and retain these young brilliant minds? After all, building the best young team (and keeping the team together) is essential for a law firm these days if they expect to keep winning.

A book is coming out in a month by three senior McKinsey & Company partners called "CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest." In an advance digital copy, I read an excerpt that I found enlightening:

"The best CEOs manage the 'soft stuff' - issues related to purpose, people and culture - with the same rigor and discipline as they do the 'hard stuff' (finance, operations, compensation, etc.)."

Younger people these days are into this "soft stuff" while many law firm leaders find this focus away from the "hard stuff" issues a bit uncomfortable and somewhat baffling.

Though they may not admit it, young professionals today crave leadership. Meaningful leadership around values and audacious goals. Leadership which clarify a bigger purpose. Leadership where the tales of where the firm has been, what it has achieved and more importantly where it is going are constantly being communicated. Leadership where everyone in the firm is truly cared about as people.

We've all seen the surveys.

What is the number one driver for millennials?

"Finding meaning and purpose in their work."

Gallup reports that millennials are looking for "work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important."

Why does this matter? To answer this, maybe a deeper question should be explored: Why are younger lawyers inclined these days to leave and find their purpose somewhere else?

As Law.Com reports in an article from just a few weeks ago: "Coupled with a greater desire for meaningful work, the experience of the past two years has created a wave of young lawyers searching for new firms [or more purposeful client-side organizations]."

Money matters. Purpose matters more. Shift your primary message to purpose.

In those tight games, what do you imagine Tom Brady and Drew Brees were saying to their teammates on the sidelines? In the huddle, as time was ticking and they had to find a way to win? How did they inspire those veterans as well as their young people to reach deeper and take the entire team to a higher level?

Law firms are amazing places full of incredibly smart, ambitious and caring people. And, these people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Something more meaningful and more purposeful.

The fact is of course, most significant and leading law firms are very purposeful places, doing purposeful work. But, is that higher meaning and purpose constantly being communicated? Or, more importantly, is this higher purpose being perceived these days - both internally and externally?

It seems like that over the last 30 years or so this purposeful work by leading law firms has been buried under "things." Things like: higher billable rates, more offices in more locations around more of the world, more practice groups, more international big name clients, more, more, more...

Law firm leaders need to take the time to reflect. Time to brush off their firm's authentic purpose. Believe me, for all great law firms, it is there... just a little at the bottom of the pile these days.

Law firm leaders need to do what leaders do best. Attract the brightest to join your team. Inspire and lead your young people. Provide constant communications about the firm's bigger purpose and values. Build a culture of teamwork, trust, and mutual respect. Be accountable for who the firm is, and who the firm always will be.

It's great inspiration for everyone at your firm ...and especially those future stars.

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