Tap dancing your way to success

Can management and leadership skills be taught and learnt?

There are some people who think that skills such as management and leadership cannot be taught; you are either born with them or not, and that all leadership and management abilities are a matter of natural talent.

It’s as rational an idea as suggesting some people are born knowing how to tap dance.

There is no such thing as natural talent. All achievement and success comes from learning, practice, and perseverance. Even so, the debate around the benefits of management and leadership skills training in the professional services sector is not as simple as it seems.

Firms committed to developing the management and leadership capabilities of its employees must recognise the difference between basic management skills and the vision, humility, creativity, and courage required for effective leadership.

Management skills encompasses identifying competencies, know-how and behaviours to develop good functional management. Whilst leadership relates more to the ability to create a vision which motivates individuals and teams to give their best performance, being able to lead change, and encourage innovation.

Partners should be encouraged to acquire at least baseline skills across the leadership and management spectrum and must be persuaded to accept that good management and leadership is absolutely crucial to success.

Leadership roles are sometimes filled for a variety of reasons not necessarily related to identifiable leadership qualities such as age and seniority of service. Whilst management skills are rarely taught, but expected to be acquired through hands on experience, which whilst valuable, can be narrow and incomplete.

The need for more and better abilities in management skills and leadership is bound to increase. The relentless pace of change, with increasing demands for compliance, better service, different regulatory structures, and the challenge of globalisation and competition, mean that those who manage or aspire to manage successful practices cannot be complacent about their own professional development in this area.

The problem however, is that although these issues seem to be widely recognised in the Professional Service Firm sector, little progress is being made. Management and leadership deficiencies continue to be cited as causes of poor performance, and friction within firms.

The reason why management and leadership skills training often fails is because fee earning is allowed to take precedence over training, with partners and fee earners cancelling training dates as soon as even the most minor client commitment intervenes.

Management training, so often regarded as “Soft skills” is not as highly valued as technical skills training, and there is insufficient recognition that most people only learn or change their behaviours because they want to and not to satisfy the will of others.

Partners and fee earners who are sent on external courses are usually expected to share what they have learnt, but rarely get around to doing so (that pesky thing called fee earning gets in the way again) and most firms fail to have mechanisms in place to monitor this.

There are a number of training providers, but the generic nature of the courses available means that the quality is mixed, and often lacks any practical application in the legal sector. In addition, it is often not sufficiently tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual or Professional Service Firm.

Every Firm is different, and there is an overlap between strategy and training. The closer a Firm looks at its capabilities and overall performance, they uncover a range of training and development needs at every single level of the organisation. In our experience, a customised approach is often necessary to meet the needs which have been identified.

These issues illustrate the common cultural and behavioural problems in many Professional Service Firms and emphasise what has emerged as accepted behaviours in the organisation. The problem areas are of course themselves issues of leadership.

We offer bespoke training in house to law firms on a wide range of management and leadership topics. WIGWAM member firms have benefited from collaborating to reduce the investment required for such training which has been designed to meet the needs of participating firms.

We can’t teach you to tap dance, but we can help you to prepare for the challenges of leading and managing a successful modern law firm.

Kimberley Williams

©Williams Wroe

Connect with me on LinkedIn


Find out how we can help you to achieve your goals.