Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #756 – Monday, July 11, 2016

Developing and Retaining Legal Talent

I am delighted to be a contributing author to a new Book entitled: Recruiting and Retaining Lawyers : Innovative Strategies to Attract, Develop and Retain Legal Talent published by Global Law and Business.

The competition for talent that leading experts started to describe in the 1990s has now become a reality in the legal profession. Like most industries across the globe, the legal industry is facing a shortage of exceptional people. Although in some jurisdictions there are more lawyers than the market can absorb, the reality is that the number of lawyers with the right skills is limited and that organizations are fighting to attract and retain the best professionals in a legal market that has become globalized and where mobility is now the norm.

This practical handbook, coordinated by Rebecca Normand-Hochman on behalf of the International Bar Association (IBA), explores the opportunities and challenges for adopting effective recruitment, development and retention strategies. Featuring chapters by leading experts in the field, I am honored to have contributed a chapter on the subject of When Leaders Need To Confront Underperformers.”

You may expect this text to be released in September.
For more information -

You may also participate in a Webinar on Addressing Performance Issues in Law Firms scheduled for Wednesday, July 27th
For more information – Click here

Post #755 - Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Is The Slump In Legal Demand Here To Stay?

Last month in a survey of US law firms, the majority of partners reported that there were now too many lawyers, too little work, and that the slump is here to stay.

As if to endorse that view, the newest list of Fortune 500 companies was published this week (  America’s 500 largest companies by revenue, took in about a half-trillion dollars LESS revenue in 2015 than they did in 2014.  Profits were LESS by about $100 billion, even though the U.S. and global economies were bigger.  The Fortune 500’s profit margin has averaged 5.7% over the past 20 years, and many see no reason to expect higher margins – and if anything, maintaining margins may grow even more challenging.

Ironically, even though the 2016 Fortune 500 are smaller and less profitable, they are employing about a million more people.  A welcome sign of job growth?  It is a question not easily answered, as it is not known where those people are.  Companies report employment worldwide, so the net additions could be anywhere.  Meanwhile, the Fortune 500’s revenue per employee was $430,000, the lowest since 2011.

A useful reminder of how company fortunes wax and wane energy companies were the No. 1 contributor to the Fortune 500’s profits just four years ago, but now they’re in last place, after reporting combined losses of $44 billion.  By contrast, financial companies were near the bottom in 2009, but this year they are No. 1, and three of the four most profitable companies in the 500 are financial firms – J.P. Morgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Wells Fargo.  But even the demand for many of their services are under extreme threat – from the growth of FinTech to the shrinking equity market.

Statistics seem to indicate that we can add publicly traded companies to the endangered species list.  The number of publicly traded companies is shrinking down to about 5300 at present, from about 8800 in the late 1990s.  This drop isn’t a blip explained by a recent economic downturn.  It is an entrenched, structural trend that has seen the number of listed companies shrink at a fairly steady rate of about 1.6% per year.  A reason frequently mentioned for the decline in public companies is the rise in litigation risks and the cost and hassle of regulatory compliance.

This incredibly shrinking equity market has massive implications for entrepreneurs, as well as for investment bankers, accountants, and . . . lawyers.

Rant #754 – Wednesday, May 3, 2016

The 2016 Spring-Summer Issue of International Review Is Now Available

INTERNATIONAL REVIEW is my 24-page glossy, printed magazine distributed to over 1600 law firm chairs and managing partners throughout North America.

I trust that this latest issue of my International Review magazine will contribute to your personal productivity and leadership efforts.

We start with seven prescriptive ingredients for Bringing Your Strategy Process Back To Life given the challenges of a flat or declining demand for legal services.

I was delighted to have joined David Morley, Senior Partner, Allen & Overy LLP; David J. Parnell, ABA Author, Speaker, and Forbes and American Lawyer Media Columnist; and Maurice A. Watson, Chairman, Husch Blackwell LLP in conducting a Webinar a few months ago.  Strategies For Overcoming Obstacles To Change is a transcript of some of my comments in response to the questions posed.

The Disruption In Transitioning A New Law Firm Leader is intended to provide some guidance toward understanding how your firm can be disrupted during the transition from an outgoing leader to a new one; while Analyzing A Leadership Candidate’s Strengths is an excerpt from my latest work: The Changing Of The Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader, and suggests how the selection of any leader can benefit from utilizing psychometric testing.

Our final selection, The Distorted View That Some May Offer, is a rather unusual article in that it was penned by a managing partner who took issue with how some consultants can be less than truthful in their representations to potential clients . . . firms like yours.  Knowing the author I thought the article worthy of reprinting.

As always, I sincerely hope that you find some practical ideas, tips and techniques here that you can put to use immediately.  Please send me your observations, critiques, comments and suggestions with respect to any of these articles.

Click HERE to download your complimentary PDF copy of the magazine.

Post #753 – Sunday, May 1, 2016

Don’t Forget Your Star Performers

There is an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed about where leaders tend to direct their one-on-one coaching efforts. 

Leaders often spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the bottom 20% of their professionals, those I have crassly come to label your ‘energy vampires.’  These are the members of your team who seem to exhibit a consistent propensity to demand continual attention.  These are also the colleagues who may never prove to be able or willing to meet firm standards or ever accomplish what you know they are capable of producing.

How do you detect an energy vampire?  Posing that question to a group of leaders we developed the following list.  An energy vampire is some professional who . . .
- blames others or uncontrollable circumstances for their unacceptable performance or behavior;
- rarely executes on those promises made to the group;
- is usually defensive and never accepts personal responsibility;
- is constantly disruptive, uncommunicative or disrespectful of colleagues;
- is combative and creates conflict and tension within the team;
- may ask for yours and others’ opinions but regularly rejects those views when given; and
- acts as though he or she were a victim.

Meanwhile, these same leaders will devote minimal coaching time or attention to their best performers – that 20% at the top end who are contributing the most to your group or your firm’s success.

Why does this pattern occur?

Your star performers appear, most often, to be self-sufficient so there is this sense that you should just leave them well enough alone and let them get things done.  However you are missing a couple of opportunities to contribute significant added-value to your team. 

One, while you may assume that your stars are self-sufficient, we all encounter frustrations and hurdles in our day to day work and efforts to complete important projects.  The degree to which you can inquire, acknowledge and remove some of those frustrations can make for a huge contribution.

Second, you may be failing to recognize that these diligent colleagues welcome your deliberate feedback and appreciate being recognized.  Time spent staying in contact with your stars and helping them serve as a role model to others can serve to amplify their performance and practices throughout your group.

Post #752 – Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Series of Leadership Webinars

As an honorary member with Leaders Excellence ( I am pleased to have been chosen as a presenter in their Live Webinar Leadership Series:

You can participate in our live video chat webinar leadership series which take place in April, August, and December every year.  After each live webinar session, a follow-up reflection session will take place on the following day.  After you have completed three sessions (webinar + reflection), you will receive a certificate of completion issued by Leaders Excellence at Harvard Square.

At this time we have scheduled five leadership webinars:

Topic: Eight Insights to Help You Lead Like it Matters … Because it does!
Lecturer: Roxana Bahar Hewertson, President & CEO at Highland Consulting Group and Former Adjunct Faculty Member at Cornell University

Topic: Presentation Styles & Extemporaneous Delivery
Lecturer: Barbara Mink, Sr. Lecturer in Management Communication at Cornell University

Topic: How Great Leaders Turn Rejection into Opportunity
Lecturer: Brett Berhoff, Founder at 17LXB and Top Contributor at Harvard Business Review

Topic: How To Get Your Group Firing On All Cylinders
Lecturer: Patrick McKenna, Principal at McKenna Associates and Internationally Recognized Author

Topic: The Development of Leadership Capability in Modern Organizations
Lecturer: David Lewin, Professor Emeritus of UCLA Anderson School of Management at University of California, Los Angeles

If you are interested, kindly shoot me a note for dates and times.

Post #751 – Friday, April 1, 2016

Is Your Leadership Style Emotionally Attractive?

Once in a while, I note a catchy phrase that resonates and makes me reflect on my own experiences.  For me, "Emotional Wake" is one such phrase. In the book, Fierce Conversations, "emotional wake" is defined as ". . . what you remember after I'm gone (perhaps when I’ve left the room).  What you feel.  The aftermath, the aftertaste, the afterglow."

We all know people who seem to be in a constant state of grumpiness and irritability.  As a leader, especially under stressful circumstances, you may make an off-handed, somewhat negative comment, perhaps unintentional, but capable of devastating someone who works with you.  You may not even be cognizant of the impact that your words have had.  You quickly forget the incident, but as is all too often the case, the recipient can recall your precise words, verbatim.  And long after he or she has left your presence, they will still remember the negative psychological experience that was created.

The converse is the ability to create positive psychological experiences, or positive feelings; to bring out the best in others, to inspire them, and to have them feel engaged. Think back of some leader who consistently made you feel good about yourself, a leader who inspired you to do your best work, a leader who motivated you to go the extra mile . . . every day.  Chances are, that leader was an individual who left you with an emotional afterglow, not an emotional aftermath.

Effective leaders know that their emotions, both negative and positive – are contagious. They know that what they say and do can affect the people on their team and within the entire firm, for better or for worse.  So for example, how much energy do you give off? In most instances your colleagues want to be around a leader who emits a high level of energy.  Energy is the intensity with which you approach every idea, project and individual that you come into contact with.  Every single thing you and I do has energy – so it will either be vibrant or muted.

Take a moment to reflect on your leadership style.  Are you emotionally attractive?  Do you drive others' emotions in your firm in the right direction?  Are people eager to give you their discretionary effort?

The answer to these questions can have a profound impact on the quality of your working relationships and, ultimately, on your group’s productivity and results.

Post #750 – March 21, 2016

An Innovative Approach To Innovation?

The other day I received this message by way of email:
“Good day Patrick; I am getting in touch on behalf of AI Magazine (Acquisition International - to advise you that, following months of research by our in-house awards team, Patrick McKenna has been named one of the Most Innovative Accountancy Firms of 2016 - Canada.”

Now I’ll bet you didn’t know I was an accounting firm, did you?  And neither did I!  But do note that the author of this communiqué articulates quite clearly “named one of” so there are probably many more innovators being contacted. 

That said, the publication representative goes on to assure me that:
“Here at AI we have spent recent months assessing some of the most competitive, cutting-edge and inventive accountancy firms from across the globe to establish those most deserving of one of our prestigious awards.  Only 1 firm from Canada will be featured, ensuring that you stand out from the crowd for services to clients.”

WOW!  Am I impressed.  So what do I do now?  My new-found Fan Club Chairman has some suggestions:
You are welcome to announce this news publicly, however if you would like this news to reach our 108,500+ subscribers and our 40,000+ per month website visitors, we offer the following packages for your consideration.

And what are these packages?  Well, for £300 I get a “simple listing” within the publication, plus a trophy and a logo for use in my marketing; or for £800 I can upgrade my simple listing to a full-page in the magazine; or for £1400 I can get a double-page spread and a front cover headline.


With all of this, one should not miss the small print at the bottom of this awards announcement:
“This email and any attachments to it may be confidential and are intended solely for the use of the individual to whom it is addressed.  Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of AI Global Media Ltd.”

Now could this by but one example of why so many of the “PAY-TO-PLAY” type listings, certificates, credentials, and awards are (and should be) highly suspect by clear thinking clients?

Post #749 – March 1, 2016

Where Do You Spend Your Leadership Time?

I have often asked of leaders a couple of questions that usually serves to illuminate precisely where they spend their time. The first question I ask is: “What proportion of your time is spent solving problems versus what proportion is spent on exploring new opportunities?” After what can often be a rather awkward reflection period, the answer I will usually elicit is about 80% on solving problems and 20% on exploring opportunities.

From knowing and spending time with many of them, I suspect that it is really more like 95% on problems and 5% on opportunities, but let’s analyze what this division of time infers. This means that as a leader, you are spending 80% of your time and energy looking backwards and fixing things, while only 20% looking forward and creating things. Firms operating in this mode may be constrained in attempting to take the lead in their competitive marketplace.

So why does this happen? Well, it should be obvious that most professionals are veteran problem solvers. We are trained to resolve the issues, put out the fires, correct the underperformance, and generally “fix” the problem. There is a powerful gravitational pull that unconsciously moves us toward fixing things instead of innovating, toward restoring instead of increasing, and toward reacting rather than being proactive.

The truth is, we secretly love the urgency of problems to be addressed. The urgent makes us feel valued. We get an adrenalin rush from urgent matters. With problems to be fixed we can be the hero that saves the day. Some of us are even pros at waiting until the last minute to do something. If we’re honest we feel more secure when we are busy doing something, even if it isn’t the most important. That urgent little problem can sometimes actually become a convenient excuse to ignore or put off the important. But we need to focus our energies on where we will have the greatest impact.

We need to understand that fixing things, while however noble, simply restores the prior performance or condition; which is comfortable, but limits value. However, if your focus is on improving the condition, on inspiring entrepreneurial endeavors, on being innovative; then your intent is not on restoring the status quo, but on developing a level of performance that exceeds any previous standards.

Now there is another question, a follow-up inquiry I tend to pose which goes like this: “Of the time you spend on exploring opportunities, (remember it was reported to be 20% of the total) how much of that time is directed toward pursuing billable production, winning the next big transaction or responding to a competitor, (the present) versus pursuing the development of entirely new skills, new technologies, or new niche services (the future)?

Again, if I were generous in reporting what I have learned, the average firm leader spends about 60% of their time exploring present opportunities and 40% on future opportunities. This, albeit unscientific research does drive a point worth scrutiny: What kind of a future is likely to be created by someone spending only about 8% of his or her total leadership/management time and energy focused on the future? 

Post #748 – Monday, February 1, 2016

Effective Leadership Requires Critical Reflection

Drawing from some meetings I’ve had these past weeks, I think every leader should consider taking time to reflect on how their leadership actions are viewed by their colleagues.

Moliere, the 17th century French dramatist, once said: It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.  Is there anything that you are avoiding doing that needs to be done?  For example, are you putting off a difficult conversation? Are you delaying any important decisions?  Are you delegating away responsibilities that should stay in your court?

At the end of each day, before you head home, take a few minutes to mentally go over your day.  Think about significant conversations you’ve held, meetings you attended, emails you sent and other actions you undertook.  Did all of your various interactions enhance your relationships?  Could you have handled anything a touch better?  This should inspire you to plan your next day around your highest purpose.

Get hold of a leadership assessment form and use it to reflect on how others in your team might critically rate you on each dimension.  For example, did you . . .
- put the interests of the team before own interests;
- share credit for successes;
- readily share relevant information;
- ask how others were doing;
- treat others with respect regardless of their position;
- foster teamwork across all groups;
- stand behind decisions made by the team;
- provide honest feedback on a timely basis.

How would others candidly respond to these questions about your behavior?

No one can be responsible for your state of mind.  We are totally responsible for the impact that others have on us.  Understand the disruptive effect that emotions can have on your behavior and resolve to do something about it.

Post #747 – Monday, January 4, 2016

An Unprecedented 75-Year Harvard Study

Happy New Year!  I’m pleased to direct your attention to a TED Talk that one of my friends shared with me.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life?  If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken.  As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction.  In an unprecedented study that tracked boys from their early teens through the last years of their lives, from all socio-economic categories, we learn the true secrets to happiness.  It’s not that complicated, and it is attainable for everyone.

In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from his research, as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

Here is the link: What Makes a Good Life

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