The one thing that doesn’t change is change itself. The speed of change in the world has never been faster. That is true more than ever in professional services firms, including law firms. The way law is delivered and practiced remains grounded in the way it was done hundreds of years ago. How can technology, leadership, and knowledge management and innovation professionals empower their organizations to succeed in this environment of constant change? Strong, but collaborative leadership is the only way.
No single person can confidently guide the way through to an unknowable future that seems to morph before our eyes each day. No one person can be a leader in a vacuum alone—anyone who thinks they can is deluding themselves. Knowledge management professionals are uniquely situated to provide leadership to their organizations. The collaborative nature of knowledge management work utilizing internal knowledge and process from across the organization lends itself to fostering collaborative leaders who can help their organizations thrive in times of great change.
Recently, I had the privilege of co-moderating a panel of legal innovation leaders from large law firms at the International Legal Technology Association’s Annual Educational Conference (ILTACON). Reading the biographies of the speakers and working with them on a preparation call was both intimidating and inspiring. These are men and women at the top of their fields, changing how their organizations are delivering services and inspiring others to be change makers. I expected impressive lessons to be presented on our panel that focused on leadership in law firms. What I experienced was a group of highly collaborative leaders whose comments had more to do with building up others around them, developing their teams, and truly being humble servant leaders.
Strong but collaborative leadership is an important asset to any organization responding to rapid industry and market change, as we have in the legal industry
A theme that echoed throughout the panel was responses that led with the word ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. Panelists described how every colleague has something to contribute. Their focus was always on listening and not issuing orders. Each leader deprecated their own expertise and highlighted the expertise of their peers and teams. The focus on listening is very important, especially in times of constant change. Why? Because firms never know where the next great solution or efficiency will originate. Everyone from the mailroom to the managing partner’s office has expertise and it all can be mined to improve efficiency and quality of work product. Strong leaders of technology and process can’t be effective if they don’t listen. They have to listen to their teams and to those they are there to serve.
My family took time after ILTACON to spend a day visiting the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As we visited the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, and Thomas Jefferson Memorial, I was able to share some thoughts on leadership with my 10-year old daughter. Even a country as big and diverse as America was not led by one person but by multiple leaders who had teams working with them to accomplish big goals that would be out of reach for any one person. It wasn’t one monument or one museum—it was many people who contributed many things to the nation reflected in the grandeur of each memorial. Companies can do the same thing through thoughtful, collaborative leadership and clear succession planning.
What do leadership, rapid organizational change, and history have in common? Strong but collaborative leadership is an important asset to any organization responding to rapid industry and market change, as we have in the legal industry. Rapid organizational change is here to stay. Having multi-disciplinary teams of collaborative leaders in knowledge management roles can provide organizations a pool of leaders to help navigate technology and process to better serve clients internally and externally. Looking back at leadership themes within government and business organizations can be instructive in showing how many ideas synthesized to solve one day’s pressing challenges will always be more effective than the heroic stoic leader who stands alone.