Not the same year-end pablum again!

We’re at the tail-end of the year, a busy time whether you’re celebrating with family or pushing to meet a year-end matter deadline. This time of year, the ‘net is awash in articles about evaluating last year and prepping for the new year that are just warmed-over from previous years. Ugh! Who has time? But…

Here are two articles worth making time to read this week because they’ll challenge your way of thinking:

  • Paying the Smart Phone Tax by Seth Godin. I essentially run my business from a smart phone, and I rely on it for critical news about a terminally ill family member. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately worried about a financial tax on my phone, but the post itself points out a much more significant price to pay from overusing it.
  • The Four Hardest Questions to Answer at the End of the Year by Michael Bungay Stanier. We all reflect on the closing year as a new one approaches, and our questions tend to scratch only the surface. As Stanier argues, asking only “what did you do” and “how did it go” allows you to avoid going deeper into what’s really going on. He recommends four alternate questions:
    • What do I need to kill off?
    • Where have I stayed stuck?
    • How did I let myself down?
    • Where are you really headed?

Read the article for further explanation of these questions, and then answer them honestly to gain deep insight leading into purposeful action. I particularly like Stanier’s suggestion that you answer the questions out loud to a trusted friend or colleague.

These two articles got me thinking in a fresh and challenging direction. I’ll be working on Stanier’s four questions next week. Will you join me?

Got resolutions?

The last couple of weeks of the year offers a fine time for several activities.  Finishing the last work of the year and getting bills out is task critical, but not the only one on the list.  Attending holiday gatherings and talking with clients and other contacts to express your appreciation and good wishes for the new year is likely at the top of the list.  (If it isn’t, perhaps you should reconsider.)  Recreation, relaxation, and re-energization may be on the list for many, which presents a good chance for starting 2009 ahead of the game.

I always recommend that, just as you close one day by checking on what went well or not and laying plans for the next day, you close the year in reflection and planning for the next year.  I recently challenged a client who’d been working some comfortable but unsuccessful client development activities with the observation that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  After a moment’s silence, she chuckled wryly and said, “Well, I guess I’ve always been a little off….”
So, what’s gone well this year, and what must you change to reach your goals?  Sometimes the changes are minor, like choosing to reach out to a different group of lawyers in your firm or your network in hopes of building a stronger professional community.
And sometimes, the changes demand real courage and unflinching honesty.  When I started Life at the Bar in 2005, I faced a huge learning curve.  I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, so I decided to work harder… And harder… And then finally, exhausted, I looked squarely at the facts and admitted that I needed to change something if I really wanted different results.  That’s when I began re-examining my business approach and asked for help.  I worked with a marketing coach one-on-one for several months, and earlier this year I joined a marketing mastermind group led by a coach.
My results?  As of today, I’m reaching 294% more lawyers with this newsletter than I reached when it launched on January 13, 2008, and I’m no longer exhausted.  That change is terrific for my business, and (even more importantly) it means that I’m advancing my business purpose (of supporting lawyers in developing successful, satisfying, and sustainable practices, which in turn will help lawyers help their clients, which in turn has a huge impact on our society) more and faster than ever before.  And I’m laying plans for even more next year with the support and suggestions of my coach and the members of my mastermind group.
That’s my story.  What will your story be this year?  What will it be this time next year?  What’s working well, and what would you like to work better?  Where do you need to change?  What assistance do you need?  Spend a few minutes mulling this over.  Think big: what’s your ideal?  What do you need to do to get there?  And remember all aspects of your practice and life: your legal skills, your collegial relationships, your client service skills, your rainmaking activities and results, your career advancement, and so on.  Today’s book review will help tremendously with client service, which has an impact on business development as well.
An assignment: schedule an hour or so to reflect on this year and to lay your plans for next year.  The time will pay remarkable dividends.

Are you playing to win?

Last night, I was watching the men’s gymnastics Olympic competition.  I was struck with the approaches, at least as described by the know-it-all knowledgeable commentators.  (I admit to some impatience with the Olympic commentators, who magnify every misstep and cluck over the athletes’ failings, but that’s another story.)  Some gymnasts played all out, trying their most difficult moves and performing brilliantly — or not.  Others seemed to play it safe, preferring to execute flawlessly what they knew they could do well rather than to stretch for a more difficult series of moves.

Recently, I asked this question: Are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?  One astute commentor asked whether I intended the question to be answered with regard to litigation or personal life.  One reason I like asking this question is because it can apply in professional life (in general or in some particular aspect) or in personal life (again, broadly or narrowly).   Let’s look at some examples.

1.  There’s an almost palpable fear among some associates (and some partners), especially given the current economic situation and the layoffs at some law firm.  Some associates take the approach of doing their best work, making suggestions and volunteering to assume responsibility, looking for every opportunity to prove themselves rising stars.  That’s playing to win.  Others do their best work but don’t reach out.  Instead, they play the law firm version of the “Whack a Mole” game: “if I raise my head too high, I may get whacked, so I’ll just stay under the radar and work hard and hope that’s good enough to avoid any problems.”  This is a classic version of playing not to lose.

2.  Or imagine a lawyer who feels the crush of time.  Too much client work, followed by too many business development or networking commitments, followed by too many personal commitments, followed by not enough time for relaxation or renewing personal time.  A lawyer who plays to win might look at her commitments, choose which provide the highest return, and eliminate or delegate the others.  Painful choices, perhaps, but the end result is likely to be less stress and more time available for the high-return activities.

A lawyer who is playing not to lose would likely try to maintain the load, perhaps giving each commitment “just enough” (she hopes) to get by, with every good intention of changing things next week but feeling constrained by others’ expectations (and her own) to keep all the balls in the air.  If you’ve ever lived like that over a long period of time, or if you’ve observed someone who has, you know that all too often, some of those balls go crashing to the ground with consequences that range from inconvenient to catastrophic.

3.  Consider a lawyer who would like to leave the practice.  I had an opportunity a few days ago to spend time with the fabulous Monica Parker, author of the recently-released book The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law, and we were talking about the challenges that lawyers face when they start thinking about leaving practice.  Money was one of the first ones we hit on: not only has the lawyer often become accustomed to a particular income and lifestyle, but he or she may be facing a family who’s come to rely on that income and lifestyle.

Perhaps for a lawyer in this situation, playing to win would include a hard look at the budget, a searching look at alternatives that might feed both the soul and the bank account, and exploring the relative importance of professional happiness and money.  Playing to win might even include considering what this lawyer likes about the practice and how to get more of that and less or what he or she dislikes.  I suspect that playing not to lose would involve a more fear-based, narrow look at how to avoid giving up (that is, losing) anything.  I also suspect that playing not to lose would result in no career change.

So, with those examples, I’ll ask again: are you playing to win?  Or are you playing not to lose?

A question to consider

I’ll write more about this in a future post, but here’s a question for you to consider:

Are you playing to win?  Or are you playing not to lose?

Is it what you thought it would be?

My home office in Atlanta is on a two-lane primary road just a few blocks from Emory University’s law school.  Today is graduation, and since about 6:30 AM, I’ve been watching cars full of well-dressed people, taxis, chartered buses, and even limos drive by.  It’s quite the parade!  And in fact, today marks the 15th anniversary of my own law school graduation at Emory.  And so, I’m wondering.

Is your life as a lawyer what you expected? Perhaps not in the details of where you’re working or even what kind of law you’re practicing, but in the larger picture of how you spend your days, whether you enjoy what you’re doing (at least, most of most days), whether you can see yourself continuing on this path for the foreseeable future.  Is your career successful (as you define successful), satisfying, and sustainable?

If not, what’s falling short?  If your practice isn’t sufficiently successful, do you need to work on business development or leadership skills?  What would it take for you to feel satisfied?

I work with lawyers who want to find more success and satisfaction in a sustainable practice.  Perhaps we should get acquainted?