Archive for June, 2006

Storytelling as a Leadership Tool

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

International lawyers often take the lead in legal matters, guiding teams of clients, younger lawyers and other counsel through international complexities.

What happens when differences arise within a team? How can a leader bridge the gap and move the legal matter forward?  How can a lawyer impart the value of teamwork?

Effective leaders know the power of stories, analogies and metaphors to teach lessons, build bridges, and create community within a team.  Empirical data shows that stories often carry more weight with listeners than rational analysis; listeners tend to actively listen to and analyze stories, relating the stories to their own experiences, whereas they might “tune out” hard data.  See James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge (John Wiley & Sons, Third Edition, 2003), 88.

So, how do leaders incorporate storytelling as an effective leadership tool?  Speeches, lectures and training seminars are perfect opportunities for teaching with anecdotes.  However, leaders can also use metaphors and other stories to relate important principles during team and one-on-one meetings.  This indirect instruction powerfully communicates the leader’s values, and can inspire team members to work towards a common goal.

For tips on persuasive storytelling techniques, consult Jim Perdue’s newest release called Winning with Stories: Using the Narrative to Persuade in Trials, Speeches and Lectures (State Bar of Texas, 2006).   Although clearly geared for plaintiffs’ trial lawyers, defense lawyers and transactional attorneys alike will find useful tips on how to teach persuasively with anecdotes. 


“Problems” Called by Another Name Sound Sweeter

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

Sometimes it’s all in the name.

Lawyers learn in law school to spot “issues” and “problems.”  In the real world, many clients resist hearing legal advice when it focuses on “issues” and “problems.”  Sometimes lawyers can ease this communication gap with their clients by using the client’s own jargon to discuss legal matters.

A few days ago I was chatting with international lawyer Thomas E. Evans, VP and General Counsel of Wal-Mart’s Logistics Division.  In his corporate culture, “problems” are renamed “opportunities.”  So, when a client brings him a legal crisis with Wal-Mart’s Indian suppliers, Tom and his clients end up looking at the crisis as an “opportunity.”  Using the positive wording puts the matter in a better light, and gets the parties focusing on how to solve the issue, not dwell on it.

Effective in-house lawyers quickly learn how to use their company’s favored phraseology.  Outside counsel should do the same as much as possible, and ask their client contact (whether a lawyer or business person) about favored phraseology, presentation and communication styles.

For more on this topic, see the May 25 post about effective in-house lawyers who work to become “part of the team.”

Dissatisfied with Your Practice? Refocus on Your Strengths.

Friday, June 9th, 2006

As an executive coach for lawyers, I meet many lawyers who are overwhelmed or unhappy with their law practices.  If you feel the same, maybe your current practice doesn’t let you use your natural talents.

As mentioned on my April 25 post, reading Now, Discover Your Strengths, and taking the online  “StrengthsFinder” survey, gives you invaluable, quick, inexpensive and objective feedback about your natural talents. Some unhappy lawyers have successfully used this feedback to refocus their career specialty.

One international lawyer couldn’t keep up with her job’s travel demands, and so she switched to a domestic practice.  However, she quickly began to dislike her new job. Her StrengthsFinder feedback helped explain why this lawyer thrived on international work; she loved learning about foreign cultures, storing obscure cultural facts, and sharing that data.  Her domestic practice – even one with intellectually rigorous transactional work – didn’t stimulate her in that way. She learned that in order to regain professional happiness, she needed to exploit her natural talents and resume international work–which she did.

Another lawyer found the StrengthsFinder results both liberating and life-changing.  We analyzed her feedback against her employment experience, and she decided to make a dramatic shift away from the court room towards a research-based practice.  And she couldn’t have been more delighted with the result.  After all, we tend to love using our natural talents.


Expat Entrepreneur

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Some spouses of international lawyers feel frustrated when they become expats.  Maybe they have left a blossoming career behind in their home country, or maybe they can’t find work in their host country. 

Now there’s a book that addresses this dilemma by encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in every expat:  Expat Entrepreneur:  How to Create and Maintain Your Own Portable Career Anywhere in the World by Joyce Parfitt ($22.50, Lean Marketing Press 2006).  The book shares real life success stories of expat entrepreneurs, and give tips for creating one’s own portable, expat-friendly career.  Before your next move abroad, buy it for your family members.