Robert is a well-respected successful rainmaker at his firm. Katie, also a partner, has been with the firm for many years and is known for delivering stellar client service and having deep knowledge and expertise in her practice area, though she does not bring in business.
In meetings, Robert tends to dominate conversations and take up most of the “air space,” rarely asking for or considering the input of others, including Katie. Because Katie is more reserved and reflective, she takes more time than Robert to think things through before forming her opinion so she becomes resentful when Robert does not solicit her input or give her time to share her opinion before making a decision and moving onto something else. This especially bothers Katie since she is typically the one with the most knowledge on the matter at hand so she feels like he confidently makes decisions without fully understanding or addressing the question before him. Katie becomes turned off by his behavior because she feels like he constantly steamrolls over her, never considering or valuing her input.
Robert appears to be clueless about the negative impact he has on her. After becoming so frustrated by his behavior, Katie ultimately leaves her firm to work in-house for one of the firm’s clients. Though the firm was disappointed to see Katie leave, they were glad that at least she was going to work for a client, thinking that this would actually turn into a plus for the firm. Little did firm leadership know that Katie was so alienated by Robert that she decided not to send any more work from the in-house client to Robert or the firm. Instead, she sends the work to other attorneys who she feels respect and appreciate her.
Katie’s story is an all-too familiar scenario that demonstrates an example of negative business outcomes caused by the behavior of a star rainmaker who is unaware of the impact that they have on others. And that’s what emotional intelligence (commonly referred to as “EQ”) is about and why it’s so important to lead to better business results.
What can law firms do to help their star partners increase their emotional intelligence to avoid potentially disastrous business outcomes for themselves and their firms?
How to Increase Your EQ
The topic of EQ was popularized by a science journalist, Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” He defined EQ as a profile of specific competencies that range across four different areas of personal ability: 1) self-awareness; 2) self-management; 3) social awareness; and 4) relationship management.
The following strategies are a good starting point for any law firm looking to help their rainmakers become more effective, emotionally intelligent leaders:
1. Help Your Rainmakers Transfer the EQ Skills They’re Already Using with Their Clients to Build Solid Teams Internally
Whether they realize it or not, many successful rainmakers are already using EQ skills when it comes to developing business and/or servicing their clients. The issue is that all too often they are not applying those same skills in their internal interactions within their law firms, which often leads to poor morale, low productivity, turnover and ineffective internal dynamics, among other things.
You first need to get the buy-in of successful rainmakers to even care about applying their EQ skills to internal dynamics and you can start by connecting how it aligns with a client-centric/client-focused approach. By being more emotionally intelligent within their law firm environments, they will indeed create better results and experiences for their clients.
Here is a real life example: We worked with a successful rainmaker from an Am Law 100 firm who struggled to build and retain a team of dedicated associates. Simply put, associates did not want to work with her. We discovered it was because the associates felt that she did not clearly communicate their assignments or her expectations and would get easily frustrated and lose her temper when things were done “wrong.” Through private coaching, we helped this partner see that she already possessed the EQ skills required to build a successful team because she used them with her clients and prospects — being clear and thoughtful about what and how she communicated, effectively setting and managing expectations, being aware of and attuned to her clients’ and prospects’ needs, etc. Once this partner understood the value of applying these EQ skills with her associates and staff, she transformed her practice, ultimately creating a team who worked harder and better for their clients and reduced her own stress level. Here is what she had to say: “Things are moving extremely well and the team is working like a well-oiled machine. What’s made the biggest difference is me being a lot more clear about what I want and what’s expected of my team. I also stopped fixing things myself; instead I take the time to explain what needs to be done to correct it and let my team work on it. I feel that I became very effective in managing people and my projects!”
2. Develop Effective EQ Training and Make It Part of Your Management Skills Curriculum
One of the most challenging aspects of helping partners become more emotionally intelligent is that simply learning the theory of EQ is not enough (in other words, once-a-year one-off workshops don’t work!). In order to be effective, EQ training must be ongoing and include components that help attorneys gain deeper self-awareness and allow for opportunities to apply and practice the new skills.
Perkins Coie LLP’s Chief Talent Officer, Jennifer Bluestein, agrees: “I don’t think a one-hour program is enough to enhance emotional intelligence. It needs to include an assessment tool and interactivity to practice the new behaviors.” And according to Tamesha Keel, Esq., CPC, Manager of Attorney Training & Development at Thompson & Knight LLP: “Effective recommendations to increase EQ would include assessments, coaching, along with framework based training and application.”
One example of a powerful assessment tool is the DiSC Personality Profile assessment, which helps attorneys not only gain much needed self-awareness, but also learn how to act with greater EQ in their daily interactions. For complimentary DiSC-related resources (including an introduction video and several sample reports), please click here.
3. Integrate EQ as Part of the Law Firm Culture
“Despite the many advantages of increasing EQ for partners, the biggest challenge would be making EQ an integral part of law firm culture because it requires a paradigm shift from the way firms normally operate,” says Tamesha Keel, Esq., CPC. “It is encouraging to note that the few, innovative law firms, which have embraced EQ through training and lawyer performance, have reaped the positive benefits thereof, including healthier cultures, maximized talent potential, and increased revenues.”
For example, Davis Graham & Stubbs is one such firm as they have recently integrated a new model aimed to improve EQ among attorneys in their firm and help partners more effectively develop their associates. According to Margee Fawley, Davis Graham & Stubbs’ Director of Professional Development & Recruiting, the firm recently launched a Project-Based Feedback model that is directly tied to partners’ compensation. The model fosters more open, thoughtful and ongoing communication between partners and associates, which is an important aspect when it comes to integrating more EQ as part of law firm culture.
Partners must complete a short feedback form after projects reach a threshold number of hours to provide the team with real-time feedback and if they fail to do so, the partner’s compensation is delayed. The form asks the partner if they have discussed the feedback with the associate and if not, why not. This prompts more open, honest and ongoing internal communication, thereby helping partners strengthen their “EQ muscles.”
The bottom line is that being a star rainmaker is not enough. If you want better business outcomes, help your rainmakers become more emotionally intelligent in their firms.