Choosing Industry Leaders

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By Gerry Riskin | Apr 30, 2014

Choosing and supporting an industry group leader requires care and attention

Organic familiarity with the industry

Whether as a result of family background, friendships, or serving clients belonging to that industry, it is essential that an industry group leader be familiar with the industry at least at a basic level. Over time, both the industry group leader and the industry group will acquire much greater knowledge about the industry, but starting from zero makes no sense. Most typically, the industry group leader would act for a signature client who belongs to that industry.

Caveat: Just as litigators resist specializing in industries because they want to be known as ninja warriors capable of fighting anyone, some business-oriented lawyers may demonstrate fear about focusing on an industry to the exclusion of others. As a strategy, focus does not equate to exclusion. A lawyer can be a phenomenal industry group leader or member of an industry group and still have interests in other industries simultaneously. How this is messaged to the consumer/client is a different issue to be addressed elsewhere, but the fear reference to may have to be addressed in order to get someone to commit to an industry or indeed to industry group leadership.

Respect of peers

It seems so trite and basic but if an individual does not command the respect of her or his peers, do not select them for this kind of leadership role. Too many leaders, including both practice group leaders and industry group leaders are chosen by reverse logic. They are selected because the firm is afraid not to choose them. This may be because they are a large biller in the area or have a significant degree of prestige; however, such a leader may be a good “head of state” but is not necessarily going to be able to execute to your highest standards.

An opportunity for mid-level partners

Don’t be afraid to select someone who is not all that senior. Except for the fact that no one would agree to do it, I would even include senior associates among those to be considered for the position. I’d be looking for energy and drive and ambition here as well as the respect of peers previously noted.

Achiever

Any venture capitalist will tell you that they invest in ideas that are provided by people with a proven track record. Do not select someone who has no billings on the basis that since they have nothing else to do, they might as well do this. The old adage “If you want something done,ask a busy person” applies here. The challenge here is that lawyers are terrible delegators so you may have to help your industry group leaders learn how to delegate significantly so that they can maintain their practicing prowess and still offer you the leadership you need.

Willing to learn (wanting to be better)

A dash of humility is required for excellent performers. They have to appreciate that improvement is possible and crave it rather than fear or reject it.

Managing the industry group leader

If you make a brilliant selection of your industry group leader, your task is not complete; rather, it has just begun. Leaders need to be led as well. Your job is to convene the industry group leaders at least bimonthly to compare notes about the processes they are using among their diverse industry groups. They need to tell each other what’s working and what isn’t. They also have to offer each other ideas. This is not purely for the intellectual horsepower but also for collaboration, and the tangential benefits will accrue in terms of having people in the firm know what what is going on and spreading the “can do” attitude/culture.

A short stone’s throw from client team leader

I don’t want to leave the subject of industry group leaders without touching upon the importance of having some client teams and having those led as well. If you implement some group-leader training, it is an excellent idea to combine industry group leaders with client team leaders – and even with practice group leaders. They may have different missions, but they are all trying to obtain peak performance from their group members toward a stated goal.