Listen, you might learn something

In 2013, an article in Fortune magazine ran with the headline, Why are lawyers such terrible managers? A tad harsh, we thought, but upon further consideration we think we know the answer.

 

The article talked about the revolving door nature of the legal profession, where staff retention rates are far from ideal. This in turn has a negative impact not just on those who remain but also the reputation of the firm itself as an employer of choice.

 

But while the article suggested that a lack of training for new managers was largely responsible for their perceived poor performance, we believe that the biggest reason for it is the inability – or reluctance – to seek advice from others and listen to what they have to say.

 

It has been a long-held belief that many senior managers hold back from coming forward for fear of being perceived as weak or vulnerable – something that researcher Francesca Gino describes as ‘egocentric bias’.

Gino conducted a survey of 1,500 people at the Harvard Business School that tested interactions between participants seeking advice and those providing it.

She found that a high proportion of respondents declined the opportunity to seek the advice of others because of “egocentric bias”. This, she asserted, helps to reinforce the view that people, in particular leaders in positions of power, refrain from asking for advice out of fear that it would make them look weak.

These findings echo those of Jenny Blake, co-founder of Google’s career mentoring program. Speaking to CNBC, she said that “Great leaders and managers make listening a priority – not just any listening, active listening.” Or as US President Woodrow Wilson neatly summarised: “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.

Seeking advice from others is a vital part of the role of manager and refusing to listen to other people’s views is a missed opportunity more than anything. Indeed, in a study of 3,100 workers conducted by Dale Carnegie Training, it was found that, “Effective leaders listen, value their employees’ contribution, and respect their opinions.”

None of us has all the answers all of the time and the art of being a great manager within the legal- or any other- profession for that matter is recognising the strengths of those within your team. So by tapping into the talent, knowledge and experience at your disposal both your performance and that of your team, is enhanced.