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Mastering the art of leading from the middle

By Julious P. Smith Jr, Chair Emeritus, Williams Mullen

29 January 2014

Lawyers do not like to be led. Lawyers admire strong leaders. Inconsistent? Certainly. The answer: Be a leader without appearing to be so. Good leaders remain one of the crowd, while leading
the crowd. Lawyers don’t really object to being led, they just don’t like being told what to do. Mastering the art of leading from the middle softens the negatives of leadership without diminishing the impact of strong leadership.

In most law firms, the trappings of leadership evoke more reaction than the job itself. Lawyers quickly tire of a managing partner who constantly reminds his peers of his position. Titles such as CEO, chairperson and so on mean little in a law firm. Lawyers see the managing partner as one of them who sits at the head of the table. Few lawyers believe the managing partner makes a bigger contribution or commands more respect than other hardworking partners.

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