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by Rebecca King-Newman | September 26, 2022


Great leaders aren’t born. Leading well requires a certain set of skills. It takes effort and desire to become a great leader. We all know the horror stories of bad bosses—those who scream, micromanage, or fail to provide feedback. Bad bosses create horrible working environments where employees fail to thrive and suffer from poor mental health before leaving for greener pastures. Don’t be a bad leader! With a little effort, there are ways to improve your leadership abilities. Great leadership skills benefit not only the leader, but everyone around them. These skills are not just for those already at the top—you can develop and put these skills to use with or without a leadership role.


The practice of law is stressful, and that stress can manifest itself in hostility, anger, and in other negative ways. By leading with positivity, you create an overall environment that becomes less stressful and more productive. If something bad happens on a case (and it will), how you manage the situation says a lot about your leadership skills. Staying positive about the problem will allow you to focus on the solution rather than dwell on the mistake/issue. Focusing on the positive will also allow your team to be more productive working on the solution. It takes the fear out of the mishap and allows people to learn from it and grow. Make sure you teach them along the way, too. Working through a problem together shows a person how to avoid the issue in the future, and emphasizes that despite the issue, that person still has value.


There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but being a confident leader is important for the team. Lacking confidence can create insecurity and uncertainty in your peers and may lead to a shift in the dynamic. When issues arise, your team will look to you, and being confident in the moment will trickle down to others. If you are feeling less than confident, take a moment and get personal about your strengths and weaknesses. When you find a weakness, make efforts to change them into strengths. Find out what motivates you within your role, and use that to motivate others. Being confident doesn’t mean you excel at all things. Recognize where you may fall short, and try to remedy that. Your team will see the effort and do the same. Make sure you are instilling confidence in others, too. Building up someone else’s confidence benefits everyone around you.


Developing your own leadership skills is essential to being a good leader. Not good at delegating? Find someone in your office who is an expert at it, and get some advice. There is always someone else to learn from, either inside or outside your organization. Take the time to invest in your own continued development and don’t remain stagnant. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you have nothing to learn. Make sure your team gets the time to develop individually, too. Talk to each member and ask them what areas they would like to learn more about or improve on, then help them make that happen. Make a plan with them for their development goals, and follow up with them on their progress. Another sign of a great leader is to ask others if they see areas that you need to develop or improve on. Ask for honest feedback from your team about areas where you may be falling short. Strive to improve that weakness, and follow up with the team about how it is going. Personal and team development will only improve your team’s long-term performance.


Staying curious on the job is a key to workplace happiness. Be a curious leader—you are, after all, a lawyer who is trained to observe and ask questions. Ask your team questions, and get to know them outside of their job requirements. If someone on the team is struggling with something, ask them about it. Get to know what limitations or issues they may have that make it difficult to complete the task. If someone is especially good at something, find out how they do it so well and have them assist others or share that advice yourself. Stay curious in your own work, too. Is the first answer to something the best one? If you stay with the issue past the first answer, you may discover better ways to deal with it. Being curious takes you from being self-aware to being in the situation, which will get noticed by your team.


One of the most important leadership skills is empathy. The legal profession is wrought with stress—deadlines, trials, unreasonable clients. But law is practiced by people, who also have lives outside of the office, another source of stress. Things will come up—death, sickness, burnout, and family issues. Being empathetic with your team is the key to team satisfaction, performance, and retention. If you’ve also been a curious leader, you will understand the reasons someone is struggling. Put on that empathetic leader hat, and place yourself in that person’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I feel in this situation?” By doing this, you approach the issue with an understanding of how the person may feel in their current situation. Engage in active listening when conversing with someone. Perform regular check-ins even if there are no outward issues. Checking in with your people shows a level of interest outside the work being done.


Leaders who display openness and humility fare far better than know-it-alls. Clients or team members may come at you with a situation or scenario where you have to say, “I don’t know” (or vice versa). That can seem inadequate or downright scary! The same is true when asking for help on matters when you need it. Having the courage to say “I don’t know” or “I need help” isn’t a weakness—it’s trustworthy and builds team support and appreciation. It is courageous. If the people you manage hear and see you do this, they won’t be afraid to say the same. Fear to speak up when help is needed sets an undesirable standard and leads to inferior performance and resentment. Instead, when you encourage people to ask for assistance, you are creating a safe and secure environment where everyone can thrive. Another way to exhibit courage is to stick up for your associates when necessary, and deliver any criticisms with care. Having your team members’ backs and doling out constructive criticism honestly and fairly creates solid team relationships.

Sense of Humor

The worst thing a leader can do is take him/herself too seriously. Yes, there is always a time to be serious and focused on work, but there are times when a good dose of laughter can really bring a team together. It builds connections and helps foster creativity and resilience among all involved. Laughing helps both physically and mentally by releasing endorphins and the experience of positive emotions. Bringing positive energy and building connections through a shared laugh will lead to positivity in other areas of your work. If you have a little fun while you are grinding through the workday, the long hours and deadlines seem less awful. Being funny every once in awhile also makes you more approachable, which is never a bad thing.


Of course, a great leader should be able to communicate. Unfortunately, not all leaders are effective communicators when it comes to those they lead. Assumptions, distractions, hectic schedules—these can all get in the way of good communication. A great leader doesn’t assume a person understands the assignment, they ask. When you communicate with someone, be an active listener. Close the door and put your cell phone down—take time to actually hear what someone is telling you, and then formulate your response. Really listen to what they say or tell you they need. Effective communication can result in far more productivity, and it builds trust. If someone thinks you really hear them, they will be loyal and effective.

Being a leader can be a tough job. You may have some skills already but lack others. Great leaders take the time to sort out what does and doesn’t work. Continually evaluate yourself and your team, and invest in areas that need to be developed or improved. By making yourself a better leader, you are empowering your team to be productive, you will increase retention, and your team will grow into the future generation of great leaders.

For more information about law firms with great leaders, check out Vault’s Best Law Firms to Work For.