Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Embracing The Values: The Balance Between Growth and Excellence

In this post I would like to share some of my personal thoughts and challenges that weigh on my mind as I am building Exemplar. This is an act of crossing one of my hands in yours by sharing the balacing act that we face as leaders trying to build an organization of Excellence in the legal and business community. It is about values.

I have always believed that the "right people" are key to building an organization that cannot be beat. My belief was confirmed last year when I met Jack Welch and heard him say that the HR function was most important function in the organization next to the Chief financial Officer. Jack Welch went on to explain how he only hired the right people 50 percent of the time at the start of his career and it took him 30 years to get to an 80 percent accuracy rate. What he was really telling us was that 5 out of every 5 people were the WRONG people and what all of us business people know so well at a gut level that it is just as important to know how to dispose of the WRONG people as it is to bring in the RIGHT people! "Hire slow, fire fast" is the common wisdom . . . which runs against every instinct I have as a young leader because I believe in people so very much that look for reasons that they can succeed with more support. Yet, the leaders and mentors that I look up to all reinforce how important it is to have the right people on the bus, and, more importantly, get the wrong ones off. . . . fast!

I have grown more as a professional in the past 2 years of the life of Exemplar than ever in my professional life. I have learned about what people stand for, the stands they make or are too cowardly to take. . . the things that move them and the things that they won't move on at all. And for all of these lessons I have never felt more passionate about anything than building an organization around core values and principles that I cannot, must not, compromise on. . . at first for myself, and now for the people who have joined our team depending on me to make sure that we stay true to the values that attracted them to join the quest for Excellence from the beginning. I have learned that we are not hiring for skill, but instead for character. We are not hiring for the things that school can teach you but the gifts your parents should have given you as a child. Skill may get them a phone call, but character and values get you in the door. Over the past couple of years I have been faced with the opportunity to triple or quadruple revenues at the expense of our core principles, to obtain near-immediate success for only the soul of the firm, or grow our attorney base by leaps and bounds were it not for our values. As a young and impatient leader, I want so much to grow at the speed that clients demand it or with the pace that attorneys are knocking at the door to join. Were it not for everything that we stand for as an organization, only "Excellence," we could double tomorrow.

In my short life I have seen the power of positive people empower and inspire our people to greatness and I have seen the tyranny of distrust and negativity tear down the walls the people put their hearts on the line to build, and at some point I decided that the cost of the wrong people is TOO HIGH. The kind of change we want to inspire in our profession is the kind that necessitates only the strongest leadership, un-tempted by greed or by false possibility and with an unending conviction to succeed. Leadership starts at the top and as a leader I must accept that the Exemplar standards which I wake up every day and strive to live up to fall first on my shoulders above anyone else. . . they help me to be a better person and to be a living example to our people. And so in the infinite wisdom of Jack Welch I have learned to hire slow in spite of the wealth of interest in our model and to hire for character. . . the things that great leaders are made of. I can teach skill, but I cannot teach integrity. I can train a corporate lawyer but I cannot teach trust. I can show you how to build a company but cannot teach you to respect the janitor. These are things your parents should have taught you long ago. And so I continue down the road with my monogram on one sleeve and my heart on the other. . . values intact and the vision alive and well. I am rich in my heart knowing that we are taking the right steps to build a great organization.

I had drinks with a gentleman who was of high rank in the US Military who recently told me "you've got to bleed to lead," which I cross referenced with a quote that leaders "bleed willingly and joyfully" to endure the lessons that are too difficult for the rest, and pass on the bits of wisdom that make this life worthwhile and make a real difference in the lives of others. To what end, you ask? When I started Exemplar someone asked me why I would take on such an enormous challenge as a young professional. . . why endeavor to inspire transformational change? Almost out of instinct I responded: "Because I can, I must."

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