The one constant in business today is change. Nonstop developments in technology, politics, regulation, culture, legislation, and financial markets now require all organizations to respond at unprecedented speed.

To thrive in this environment, organizations need business leaders who are change agents; those who can inspire their own teams and colleagues around the world. This need extends to the office of the general counsel and, with the onslaught of constant change, we are seeing a reshaping of their roles and responsibilities.

In Their Own Words: Four Challenges Reshaping the GC Role

Reinforcing this opportunity for GCs to be significant influencers of change within their companies, the theme at the recent Global Leaders in Law Congress, sponsored by Morrison & Foerster was: “Be the Change.” Over two days, leading GCs from global companies discussed how GCs can become catalysts for the change their teams and organizations need. These leaders also explored, among other topics, how to manage a crisis, be ambassadors for corporate culture, retain and develop talent, build diverse teams, and manage intergenerational differences.

Succeeding in the redefined GC role with its many responsibilities is not easy. Does this sound familiar? At the Congress, GCs responded to a survey to share insights into how they perceive some of their biggest challenges.

Here are a few insights we’ve gleaned based on their responses:

  • There’s a growing tension between creating value and protecting the brand. GCs indicated that they are experiencing a significant tension between being value creators and protectors of the brand. Over 70 percent agreed, somewhat or strongly, that balancing the need to be a risk manager with the need to be a commercial enabler is more difficult than ever. This begs the question, how does a GC equally prioritize stakeholders, business needs, and compliance?
  • Attaining true diversity is an uphill battle. Another surprising but perhaps realistic insight from the survey, is that GCs see attaining true diversity and inclusion as a significant challenge. More than 60 percent agreed, somewhat or strongly, that it will take decades to achieve. But because research indicates that the more diverse the team, the greater the likelihood of success, GCs are asking themselves what can they do on a day-to-day basis to change the team composition for the better?
  • Data-driven decision making is increasing. It is probably no surprise that understanding and exploiting changes in technology is also on the minds of many GCs. Nearly 50 percent reported that their legal team is prepared to use data in decision making. All of the GCs appreciated that they are expected to communicate quicker and with more data than ever before. Some are truly ready but many others are not. Are you? At the same time, almost 70 percent of GCs surveyed do not have solid plans to invest in the latest legal technology. Some commented that GCs are low down on the investment priority list for the internal technology department in contrast to their sales colleagues. If this is the case, then how are GCs supposed to achieve the decisions through the data point made earlier?
  • Leadership skills take center stage. GCs opined on what they felt are the most important skills for effective leaders. Emotional intelligence was at the top of the list, with legal technical expertise falling lower on the list than it has probably ever been. People at the Congress commented on the importance of soft skills, but is it time to move away from the soft-skills label? Surely true leadership skills and behaviors are actually business-critical skills and we suspect that’s what GCs want to be known for.

Do the Experiences of Other GCs Resonate with You?

This survey was intended to pulse check how GCs are feeling about the very real reshaping of their roles. We have created a global thought leadership program, “The GC {Re}defined,” to support GCs through this time of change, which may present you with the exciting opportunity to be a business leader with tremendous impact. You could be a driving force in shaping the culture and direction of your organization. Maybe you are already. GC {Re}defined will bring you original articles, research, and networking opportunities. We want to help you and hear what you think, so please tell us what issues are at the top of your minds, or contact us if you have ideas for future blog posts.

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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