Written by Kristin Konschnik, Partner at Withers
A few years ago, as part of some executive coaching sessions, I took several ‘personality’ and ‘leadership style’ tests. The leadership style test was a ‘360 assessment’, so some of my colleagues at different career levels answered the same questions as I did about my leadership styles (or lack thereof!) I don’t put much stock in tests like this other than as to general principles but the results were interesting. While I saw myself primarily as ‘directive’ (ie, I tell people how to accomplish tasks) my colleagues thought very differently – in their view, ‘coaching’ (or teaching) was my primary leadership style.
Leaving aside how closely these tests correlate to reality, sharing what I’ve learned and my experience – technical, professional and personal – is extremely important to me. While this is obviously important for everyone, I think it is particularly important for successful women lawyers to understand and accept their responsibility to act as role models, mentors, sponsors and friends to more junior women.
When I started practicing many years ago, I was extremely lucky to work directly with a very successful woman partner. She was whip-smart, trained and practiced at several of the largest city law firms, and was a single mother with two sons. She was also the best teacher I’ve had in my legal career; she taught me many things that I now teach associates today. Most importantly, she clearly valued teaching – and I hope that value is also the most important thing I teach associates.
Beginning your legal career is challenging in so many ways. Often, it’s your first real ‘office’ job; law school doesn’t prepare you to actually practice law; you’re quickly faced with competing (and frequently immediate) deadlines; everyone appears to be talking in a foreign language; and more senior lawyers are frequently ‘too busy’ to explain much of anything.
Although women have formed at least 50% of new intakes at large law firms for a number of years, many of them ‘disappear’ before reaching senior levels. While there are many reasons for this ‘attrition’, a large part of retaining the next generation of women lawyers depends on excellent, invested, interested women at (even slightly) more senior levels who are committed to teaching.