Philadelphia, Pa. -- A new study by Hay Group, a global organizational and human resources consulting firm, shows that top-performing lawyers use a complex array of leadership styles to lead and influence others. The outstanding lawyers used styles that research has shown are more effective in driving performance over the long haul.
Hay Group researchers studied the leadership styles of 33 partners in a top global law firm. High-performing partners were compared with 20 average performers in terms of revenue, strength of client relationships, and substantive skills.
“The top performers were more likely to break the stereotype of the lawyer as a cold, calculating, ruthless star performer, interested only in the outcome of the case,” said Susan Snyder, head of Hay Group’s Leadership Development Practice in New York.
Each partner was assessed by associates whom they led on specific matters. Hay Group has found through prior research that there are six primary leadership styles, or behavioral patterns, that impact an organization’s performance. These key styles of management are: directive, visionary, affiliative, participative, pacesetting, and coaching.
According to the Hay Group study, the outstanding partners used a broader range of styles than their average performing peers. Almost 70 percent used four or more of the six styles, compared to only 40 percent of the average group.
The below figure compares the percentage of outstanding and average performers who demonstrated these six styles.
The outstanding lawyers also used styles that research has shown are more effective in driving performance over time. They were more visionary, providing their teams much needed perspective and context while reinforcing the firm’s values. They were also twice as participative, engaging associates and peers in critical discussions and decisions. And they were effective coaches, providing long-term development and mentoring.
“The best partners were far less likely than their peers to be pacesetters -- perfectionists who set unattainable goals, micromanage, and have a hard time letting go of tasks that would be better handled by associates,” said Snyder.
The best partners also drew on the directive style: They were five times more likely to give specific directions and demand immediate action. But they used it as one of several styles. They occasionally barked at associates, but also coached and involved them. Typical average partners who were directive, however, tended to use the style more exclusively – which can intimidate and discourage associates.
“Clearly leadership makes a difference to the bottom line. The partners Hay Group studied were not in the outstanding group because of their popularity, but because their results were better,” said Snyder.
The Hay Group study found that a flexible leadership approach generated the best results. The research showed that the appropriate style is dependent on the specific situation. While the directive style is often perceived negatively, it is very effective when used in critical, high-risk situations. When that happens, associates are more engaged and productive, and generate better results for the firm.