We know how challenging it can be, standing at the helm of a small law firm. Never mind the whole buiding-a-business-and-being-awesome-at-delivering-legal-advice-and-services thing. Leading a team poses a whole new series of obstacles in a small solo law firm setting, but the success of your firm depends on your ability to navigate those challenges as seamlessly as possible.
And rule #1 of effective team leadership at a boutique law firm is this: set boundaries between you and your employees.
We’re not saying to be cold towards your employees. And we’re not saying to be all business, all the time. It’s important to cultivate something of a relationship with each member of your team—knowing what’s going on with their kid’s baseball team, or checking in on an ailing spouse. This shows compassion and empathy—it makes your team members feel important, acknowledged and appreciated—and is imperative for fostering loyalty amongst your staff.
But when the nature of relationship crosses from acquaintanceship into BFF-land—when you cross that very important boundary—well, you’ve gone a step (or two) too far. Getting too close to your employees can backfire, big time. Here’s how:
1. Dropped balls and missed opportunities: When you’re besties with your team, they may get lax about following up on new business opportunities, even when you basically spoon-fed them to your employees. They feel there will be no consequences for the lack of follow-up. They leave it to you to pick up the slack, trusting that you’ll understand because you know how stressed out they are about their problems at home/parenting woes/messy divorce/dating dilemmas/insert other personal problem here.
2. Lack of respect. Get too buddy-buddy with your colleagues and just wait to be undermined by your team. While healthy collaboration is great, when your authority and decision-making skills are called into question, chances are you’ve crossed the too-close boundary…
3. Damaged loyalty. The complete opposite of what you were probably trying to accomplish by getting super close with your team, right? When your employee’s feel like you’re more of a friend than a leader, they’ll truly believe that you want them to take their show on the road to take advantage of a great job offer from a competitor.
4. Constructive feedback feels more like backstabbing. If giving honest and necessary feedback has become a challenge…you guessed it, you’ve gone too far into the friend-zone. Being able to honestly and accurately measure performance is key, not just to the growth of your boutique firm, but also to the development of your team members!
We understand the desire to create a close-knit team at your boutique law firm, but there is a way to balance professionalism and congeniality. Aim to be a mentor and champion—not a manager, and definitely not a friend.
Starting a boutique law firm is filled with challenges—many of them expected: building your clientele, marketing your firm, hiring a team, etc. But resisting the urge to get too-close-for-comfort with your people, especially in a setting as intimate as that of a boutique law, firm can be an unexpected obstacle that can leave you with a hard-to-motivate team, with a lack of respect and a sense of entitlement.