Sunday, August 27, 2006

Accountability: What Most Professionals Hate and What Makes Me a Better Professional

The oddest thing about traditional partnerships is that everyone wants a say in everything and yet NOBODY wants to be accountable for anything! Does this situation sound like your law firm? David Maister writes masterfully about this issue in his book True Professionalism. I was sitting down to dinner tonight and reading his book for the 3rd time and got to Chapter 6 entitled "Are you willing to be managed" where he so correctly points out that "To choose a goal without being prepared to be accountable for progress towards it is to chose nothing." You might expect me to go on to discuss how most lawyers are difficult or impossible to manage, but that would be a better subject for a book than a blog. This blog is actually about me. You see, I have chosen to be a leader of a professional service firm that has put its vision and values out there and am thankful every day to have a team of attorneys and executives who help me to be the best I can be. So what, you ask? Well, I know that if I am going to be an effective leader of an organization with such high standards I also have to be accountable to be an "exemplar" of the values that we espouse. The great people that are the heart of Exemplar deserve to have a leader who strives for excellence as a professional and who holds himself to the highest standards. I am far from perfect and have a lot to learn, but as Maister puts it "It is okay to fail, but unacceptable to fail to try."

Exemplar has eight core values: Excellence, Leadership, Integrity, Team, Trust, Respect, Communication, Equanimity. In order for these to be living values in our organization, they first need to be present (always) in the leadership of Exemplar. At Exemplar, our team has "rights" to take any members aside to talk about how we can improve in any of these core values. Although I feel I have a good sense of the values, I also count on having good people around me who I can count on to hold me to the highest standards with respect to our values. You see, talking about how we can improve as professionals and as leaders is not an act of punishment but an act of caring. Maister calls it the "courage to care" because we as professionals have to consent to receiving feedback from our colleagues on values. Most would fear what they would hear. What's more, at Exemplar we each agree that it is mandatory to hold each other to the highest standard with regard to our values. This creates an environment of candor and openness that has helped me to grow more as a professional than ever before in my life. Ron Baker writes in his book The Firm of the Future that "people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care." That statement is right on! Being a professional at Exemplar is not about showing the world how much we know, it is about showing how much we care, because our customers will be the first to say that there are thousands of lawyers who know at least as much . . . and yet very few customers feel that their former lawyers really cared about their business. We are accountable to our values because we have the courage to care. It is not something that can be packaged into marketing materials, nor is it something you can pretend to do. It is the Exemplar way. . . and one reason that so many of our customers have chosen Exemplar.

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