Leadership for Change

06 Mar 2019

There is a direct relationship between the pace of change and the need for strong leadership—generally, the faster the former, the more urgent the latter. So it’s no surprise that your leadership skills—not your legal skills—are getting more attention these days.

 The Global Leaders in Law Congress brought together 80 global GCs in September with this theme in mind. Morrison & Foerster surveyed the GCs and among the questions, we asked: What are the most important skills you think a GC needs to lead and manage change?

Communicate and show flexibility

The most popular answer was emotional intelligence, which was followed by communication, team-building, stakeholder management, judgment, and analytical thinking. These “soft skills” trumped technical legal skills, which landed at the bottom.

Sean Roberts, General Counsel for GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Consumer Healthcare division, notes that good communication and flexibility are especially crucial when teams from different cultures and backgrounds work together.

 “When you have people who are used to operating in a digital world outside of healthcare, it is important to keep reinforcing the importance of quality,” says Roberts. “They should know that nothing is too important to sacrifice quality.”  

Roberts adds “At the same time, it’s also important to recognize the old way of doing things sequentially can’t always be done. You have to be more flexible, which can be an uncomfortable feeling for lawyers.”

Manage your portfolio

Giving strong opinions in the face of ambiguity may also be uncomfortable for in-house counsel. But that’s another key function of leadership in today’s world, in which change is a constant.

“GCs are being asked to give strong opinions—not equivocate,” notes Jonathan Pearl, former Executive Vice President, Legal & Compliance, for Sony Electronics. “I think that is appropriate. GCs are hired for their judgment. They need to demonstrate that they’re prepared to be held accountable for their decisions and to make the tough calls.”

Being ready and available to deliver high-value work is something that Pearl tried to instill in his colleagues. He notes that legal departments can become victims of their own success if they are not clear about their mission and where they can have the biggest impact.

 “Lawyers should manage their portfolio and their clients in such a way that enables them to push away low-value work and concentrate on high-risk, high-value high where their skills are needed,” he says.

Win the trust of colleagues

Of course, gaining trust from your colleagues in the C-suite is crucial to managing change. That may be especially challenging with colleagues in jurisdictions where the GC may not have the same status as it does in many Western countries.

“It’s important to go through a few rounds with people where you ask important questions and also provide solutions, demonstrating you understand the business,” says Jeremy Entwisle, Regional General Counsel – EMEA at Hoya Corporation. “Then people will start to see you in a different light.”

Is your role being redefined? As the world changes and you face more and more uncertainty inside and outside our own organizations, how often do you ask yourself where your leadership strengths lie and where you need to invest further when it comes to your business leadership skills to be a successful agent for change?

Survey Results from Global General Counsel Forum, September 2018

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “The GC {Re}Defined,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.



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