The Leader as Business Partner, Source of Inspiration and Team Manager

This section looks at the challenge faced by the leader in understanding the nature of the business context in which the organization operates. There are many tried and trusted tools for strategic analysis that will help the leader formulate their view of the business position and its organizational context. We will look at three of them. The first, the SWOT analysis, gives a broad business overview. The second, the value chain, gives insight into the added value of the processes used to deliver to the customer. Last, the cultural web gives some useful insights into how the business goes about its work and the character of the organization. Taken together, they give a leader useful ammunition to make better leadership decisions based on a broad understanding.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths — what does your organization do well?
Weaknesses — what does your organization not do well?
Opportunities — where in the marketplace are there opportunities to gain competitive leverage?
Threats — what might destabilize the organization's position?

For "opportunities" and "threats", ask yourself how are political bodies responding to various pressures, and what impact will changes in legislation and regulation have on your organization?

Complete this SWOT analysis for your own organization. Start by looking outwards at the challenges your organizations faces, opportunities and threats, then consider the resources your organization has to tackle them. You can usefully discuss this with trusted business colleagues to help you gain more insight.

You may find completing the following table helpful:

Strengths Weaknesses
Opportunities Threats

The Value Chain

A business organization is the engine of value creation: it contains a system of inputs that it transforms into different value-added outputs. The value chain separates the value activities of the firm into a sequential chain and distinguishes primary activities (those involved with the direct transformation of inputs and interface with customers) and support activities. Support activities are where in-house counsel will sit, alongside management, planning, finance, accounting, business, relations with the public sector and quality management, human resource management, and technological development. Seen as part of a value chain, the role of in-house counsel is to identify how to best add value through understanding where you as lawyers fit into this value chain. Having this clear understanding of exactly how and where value is created for different classes of end-users is critical to business decisions. It will help you determine your priorities, where to put your energies and whether, for example, to outsource some of your work.

Taking this approach:

  • establish the key players whose support is required for the success of the business;
  • ascertain the value you are giving to continue support for the business;
  • and prioritize competing claims on your time to deliver best value to the business.

The Impact of Culture

Leaders need to be very aware of culture, its strengths and weaknesses, and how to change culture when needed. Culture is a somewhat invisible presence, affecting the character of the organization and the way things are done. What aspects of your organization's culture are working, what isn't working and what needs to be changed? A structured checklist can help you pinpoint areas for attention. One such approach is the cultural web. It considers these interlocking elements:

Use the headings in the cultural web to consider your organization:

Stories — what are the past events and people who are talked about inside and outside the company, and what do they mean?
Rituals and routines — what do the daily behaviour and actions of people signal about acceptable behaviour?
Symbols — do the visual representations of the company speak volumes? Consider logos, how plush the offices are and the formal or informal dress codes, for example.
Organizational structure — what can you infer from the structure defined by the organization chart and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued?
Control systems — in what ways does the organization keep control?
Power structures — where are the pockets of real power in the company? The key is that the truly powerful people have the greatest amount of influence on decisions, operations and strategic direction.
What is the governing paradigm? Together, the above factors add up to a collective mindset: for example, "we offer exceptional service", "we're skilled problem-solvers for our clients", etc.
Consider your own leadership situation — how do the value chain and the cultural web help you understand the context in which you operate?

When you have put together this information, you can use it to discuss strengths or weaknesses of your organization and what specifically needs to change if you were to draw a new culture web of a more desirable organization. A case study of using the culture web in a change situation is described below.

Culture Case Study

Throughout the organization, the central-U.K. in-house counsel team was well respected for its delivery and expertise. A major reorganization meant that Peter found himself heading up a largely new team of 15 people, spread across three geographical locations. Through structured discussion with his new team, using the culture web to describe the culture of different parts of the organization, the team members were surprised at what they had in common: a strong work ethic, pride in their knowledge and ability to work well with their non-legal colleagues, for example. In small groups, people drew up and discussed a new culture web of what was needed to function well as a whole group. Gradually, working together became more productive; in time the new team built up more of a shared sense of purpose within the whole team, as people worked together on common tasks. The initial culture analysis work had given valuable insights for everyone to say what needed to change and made certain that the department did not lose valuable reputations and knowledge from each of the locations.

The Leader as a Resilient Source of Inspiration

Leaders in the Spotlight

"Most men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
— Abraham Lincoln

People will look to leaders for inspiration and direction. However, this puts a lot of pressure on the individual.

In 1991, Gerald Ratner, then chief executive of a large U.K. retail jeweller bearing his family name, confessed that some of the products sold by his company were "total crap". Ratner never lived down this off-the-cuff comment. The firm's stock market value plummeted and Ratner resigned the following year.


"Each night before I go to bed, I try myself by Court Martial to see if I have done something really effective during the day."
— Winston Churchill

Self-knowledge is a critical capacity for any leader. In order to learn how to change things, leaders must commit to changing themselves.

Integrity and Authenticity
Integrity helps us deal effectively with the moral dilemmas that are frequently encountered in the realm of leadership. Authenticity is a quality that followers look for in their leaders. Is what the leader saying congruent with their inner values? Does the message carry the distinct signature of the leader's character? Understanding yourself, therefore, is a prerequisite for any leader seeking to operate with integrity and authenticity.

Most individuals who reach leadership positions within organizations do so because they have a robust enough psychological make-up to allow them to manage significant levels of pressure. This is likely to have entailed developing daily practices that cultivate intellect, social intelligence, physical fitness and spiritual depth.

Inspiration and You
Consider yourself against each of these headings. Have you been put to the test in these areas? If so, what have you learnt for the future?

Leading Your Team

The most visible form of leadership is likely to be day-to-day with your own team, and performance management, communication and motivation are central parts of leading this team. This is likely to mean regularly:

  • helping people to understand and interpret the organization's vision and strategy in relation to the tasks of the team;
  • assisting team members to recognize how they each contribute to achieving key business objectives and encouraging them and developing them to do so;
  • and updating the team on progress in meeting key priorities and communicating with the rest of the organization.

Case Study of Change

Joe was a newly promoted head of a team of in-house attorneys, operating from several locations. The business was unhappy with legal processing, which sometimes held up important business decisions. To streamline things, Joe introduced new procedures, but he did so in a rather heavy-handed and dictatorial way. Rather than speeding up the overall work of the department, there was confusion and a noticeable drop in morale.

Then something happened that helped initiate a much more helpful process of change. In response to a business need to take on unfamiliar work, a small group of enthusiastic people wanted to research best practices elsewhere and put in place some of their own ideas. By this stage, Joe had received some feedback and coaching on his ineffective team management; he rather gingerly allowed an informal steering group to be established to work through ideas and concerns on an equal co-worker basis. This was so effective that other people started to see the usefulness of this approach, and, gradually, others adopted a peer steering group approach to introduce new working practices. Joe had realized that such change was likely to be both beneficial and long-lasting because it kept the involvement of others. Initial concerns that it would undermine Joe's authority did not materialize. Joe felt he had learnt an important lesson about managing change in a team environment: participation and involvement are more likely to produce commitment and longer-lasting change, even though initially it may appear to take longer to introduce.

Mentoring and developing independent, achievement-oriented professionals can be a challenge and building a sense of teamwork requires time and effort. While recognizing this can be no small task, such long-term investment will pay off.

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