David Brooks is right on this one — and the legal profession is Exhibit A.
Before resuming my imagined cross-examination of a distressingly real biglaw senior partner in “PUZZLE PIECES,” I want to pause on Brooks’ April 9 NY Times column. He makes my point in a broader context: the pervasive absence of thoughtful reflection that passes for leadership is not unique to big law firms.
Looking at corporate America, he asks, “Who’s in charge?”
Then he answers his own question: “They are superconfident, forceful and charismatic.”
To these characteristics, I would add another: hubris.
Having navigated internal politics to reach the pinnacle of power in their organizations, they don’t revisit their guiding principles. Armed with an MBA (or at least, the equivalent mentality of misguided metrics), they validate their governance using the same criteria that swept them to the top.
As a result, attorneys who enjoyed every advantage as they rose through the ranks have now tied themselves to a mypoic view that encourages them to pull up the ladder on their kids’ generation. Compared to the growing national debt that preoccupies many with concern for our progeny’s well-being, baby boomer greed is wreaking far more enduring havoc.
Brooks argues in favor of an alternative style: the humble hound — a leader who combines “extreme personal humility with intense professional will” and “thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses…She understands she is too quick to grasp pseudo-ojective models and confident projections that give the illusion of control.”
To save them from themselves, big law firms need more such leaders. But who will mentor candidates through the daunting journey into equity partnerships and then upward?
Certainly not 64-year-old senior partners who don’t think about their own retirements until they receive lists of firm nominees for their management committees, only to find that because of advancing age their names aren’t on them.
What can you say about a leader for whom the approach of a 65th birthday comes as a surprise?