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    May 26th, 2008

    ♫ My hands were steady
    My eyes were clear and bright
    My walk had purpose
    My steps were quick and light
    And I held firmly
    To what I felt was right
    Like a rock…♫

    Words and Music by Bob Seger.

    During a particularly trying day, you take a deep breath and look around you. Reflecting for a moment, you wonder – knowing what you know now, if you had to hire any of your present employees or join any of your present partners – would you? Are there staff members or partners who just seem to make life more difficult for themselves and for all others around them? Personalizing this line of thought, you consider: if you had to be considered for your own job today – would you be? What if you were let go right now from your present position – are there other organizations out there that are just waiting to snap you up? Or would you sink out of sight?

    Complainers can spread negativity through the workplace like a contagious disease and infect even the most optimistic and productive employees. The ultimate result: dropping productivity along with the slow erosion of corporate culture, even in offices that recently had good morale, according to Michelle Neely Martinez, a contributing editor of HR Magazine.

    It is a sad fact that while pessimists are more often right, optimists accomplish more (Cathy Woodgold). Accordingly, what can we do right now to improve our attitudes and in the process, improve our organizations and take out some insurance for our own personal survival plan?

    Be Consistent: Pessimism occurs when internal standards are not being maintained – when company policies and procedures are not being consistently applied. All staff need to see that everyone is being held up to the same standard. If certain staff members consistently come in late and leave early, then a perception is being created that work and rewards are being unfairly distributed.

    Measure Up: Do you do regular performance reviews? (for staff and partners alike) Are you forthright on what your expectations are and how people measure up? More importantly, do other people (who can and do see what is going on) see that management is actively dealing with the deadwood? This sends a message throughout the entire organization that expectations and performance are taken seriously – and rewarded appropriately.

    Communicate: All too often, staff feel disenfranchised regarding ongoing change. Do you involve staff in decisions? Is their input valued or even sought before changes are made? A classic example is in the technology area – since partners feel they are paying for the equipment, they also feel that the decision on what to buy is theirs and theirs alone. However, this overlooks the fact that the staff must use this equipment on a daily basis – and can feel belittled and marginalized over their lack of input.

    Be Up Front: When you come across someone who is complaining, turn to them and ask: “What would you do about it?” This technique forces the complainer to change positions from passive complainer to being engaged in seeking solutions. This technique can also serve as an internal check: before making a comment, ask yourself – “How would I change this situation for the better?” You can shape others’ perception of yourself as a leader and active problem solver – and a hot commodity to have around.

    Don’t Blame: Do you have someone in the office who starts looking for someone to blame when their early-warning radar goes off? Looking for fault may be the purpose of a lawsuit, but it is rarely productive in an office situation. Valuable employees recognize a situation for what it is and start searching for ways to improve it.

    Practice Creative Ignoring: Albert Bernstein, a clinical psychologist and author of Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work (Random House), advises that when you’re surrounded by people screaming, yelling and demanding somebody’s head, do nothing. That response is much more thought-out and creative than agreeing with them (or worse, engaging them and allowing them to vent even further).

    Live Long and Prosper! Maruta, T., et al. in an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2000 Feb; 75(2):140-143 entitled Optimists vs Pessimists: Survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period found that being pessimistic is a risk factor for an early death. Negative attitudes may contribute to bad health decisions (and bad career moves, to boot).

    Stick with It: John Bingham, in his book No Need for Speed, A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running (Rodale, 2002) says that dedication is so much more important than discipline. Being a dedicated runner rather than a disciplined one means understanding that frustration is an important part of the combination of ingredients that leads to progress. For the dedicated runner, frustration is to be accepted and savoured, not avoided. As in running, so as in life.

    Focus on the Big Picture: When you hear someone complaining, ask yourself: What are they trying to accomplish here? Are they trying to enlist you in their cause? Are they looking to be rescued? Are they trying to torpedo someone’s project? By taking a step backwards and taking the 50,000 foot view, you may serve as the compass that brings everyone back to focus on the important goals and objectives.

    Be a Leader: Yogi Berra once said: “I don’t want to make the wrong mistake.” All too often, decisions are put off since no one wants to be blamed for doing the wrong thing. Developing a culture that encourages risk and decision-making empowers employees and turns the organization into a “doer” rather than a “follower”. It also discourages “siloism” – the lack of sharing what you are working on for fear of negative comments and criticism.

    Be Strong: Inner strength can be communicated in many ways. One of the best is having the ability to do what’s right. A criticism that was recently leveled against certain politicians was that they asked: “How would this affect me politically” before they asked “What is the right thing to do for my constituents?” Having a good attitude means you have the strength to do the right thing – not just what is politically expedient.

    Developing and holding onto the right attitude is equivalent to being a lighthouse – standing firm while the storm howls and breaks around you. Like a Rock.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    This entry was posted on Monday, May 26th, 2008 at 7:12 am and is filed under Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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