Being an effective General Counsel is not only about exercising keen legal judgment. It also calls for business savvy and executive team leadership as an integral member of the C-Suite.
Here are some resources on leadership to help you in your journey as a rising, new or experienced General Counsel.
There’s no question that the typical general counsel (GC) of a Fortune 1000 company possesses impressive legal skills and qualifications…. But the effectiveness of senior leaders depends on more than what they know and where they learned it—it also depends on how they lead.
-Victoria Reese, Global Practice Managing Partner at Heidrick & Struggles
The legal field doesn’t constrain people’s potential. But it tends to constrain their way of thinking about potential. Lawyers sometimes don’t see the possibilities before them and they therefore don’t act in ways that take advantage of those possibilities. At the extreme, lawyers become the keeper of their own cells, walled off from new ideas and energies.
– Michael Melcher, Partner, Next Step Partner and host of The Career Stewardship Podcast
Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves; you need to create them. This means getting in front of the Board of Directors, President or CEO whenever appropriate and possible, making presentations to industry or key clients, spearheading/overseeing important projects and making yourself known as a person of vision and action within the company and outside of it. The best way to get tapped for a GC role, or increase your impact if you are already in one, is to be (and create the reputation of being) someone who effectively leads, mentors, sponsors, motivates, teaches and influences others. In short, make leadership a centerpiece in your professional mission and personal brand.
– Anne Marie Segal, Founder of Segal Coaching LLC
Also, there is a degree of being an observer; being an adviser in other topics that aren’t exactly legal things. It is a privileged position because what they touch has to do with almost everything else we do in the company. It has to do with commercial relationships with customers, to relationships with employees and suppliers, the way you comply with the market, with regulation. So being aware of all of those things, they can assess the business extremely well. There is so much more to the job than saying ‘we are not legally compliant with this or that’.
– Luis Alvarez, Former CEO of BT Services
General counsel sit at an interesting place within the C-suite spectrum of personalities. They are not change agents/ disruptors (like chief digital officers, chief marketing officers and chief information officers/chief technology officers (CIO/CTO) or even change enablers (like CEOs, chief human resources officers and chief operating officers). Rather, they are at the more pragmatic, business-oriented end of the risk management group, though not as rules driven as CFOs. This unique position among their colleagues gives them the opportunity to be the balancing voice in key conversations.
– Cynthia Dow, Executive Search and Assessment Consultant, and colleagues at Russell Reynolds
The GC must lead by example, encouraging the legal team to be collaborative, understand how technology affects legal practice and delivery (many State Bars require this as an element of professional competency), and appreciate that legal practice and legal delivery are related but distinct. These skills are not taught at law school or learned at large firms. So how does one acquire them with all the immediate fires that must be put out? The simple answer is that many of the new skills must be learned on-the-fly, online, in executive training courses, and from experts and thought leaders.
-Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic