In this two-part series, I recount some of my observations when I recently sat on a speaker panel at the Property Council of Australia’s Annual Diversity lunch.

When talking about the “traits” needed to reach the pinnacle of your profession – it’s often not always the technical skills required to do the job that gets people there – it’s often other skills and qualities like drive and determination that set them apart.

1: The ability to be patient and disciplined.

Each day will serve us up something different; good leaders can set aside small disappointments and focus on the vision.

In my experience, those who make it to the top usually do not get there by accident. More often than not, their success is the measure of their efforts over time, sometimes a very, very long time.

These leaders display a constant willingness to focus on the small victories, using that as a way forward and knowing that every step forward brings their goal a tiny bit closer.

Some of the ways I “try” and focus on my goals:

  • Plan for all the steps you’ll be taking and when
  • Hold yourself to account on those steps
  • Better still be regularly accountable to someone else along the way to keep you motivated and ensure you remain on track for success
  • Keep your momentum going through all the “roadblocks” that will undoubtedly stand in your way

Most importantly – if there is something you aspire to, go for it! Because if you don’t, someone else will.

2: The issue of gender isn’t a disadvantage, but an opportunity for innovation.

In my profession, getting to the top as a woman is a very different journey than it is for a man. Skills and communication excellence are table stakes, but we (as women) also need to be a bit more strategic, thinking more about timing, relationships and how to play to our specific strengths.

It is no secret that women in the practice of law are facing enormous challenges in rising through to the very top ranks in law firms, receiving equitable pay and being equitably briefed at the bar. Women lawyers are leaving the profession and the obvious retention problem has been well publicised.

There is some great work being done in this space and many initiatives to spark change. The Women’s Lawyers Association of SA, for instance, are about to imminently roll out a Charter for the Advancement of Women.

But, more fundamental change is needed in my view, that is far more difficult to bring about. Until there is a shift in society’s expectations of women as primary caregivers to children, to parents being jointly responsible caregivers, I expect that women will continue to be at a disadvantage.

Does the glass ceiling exist? Yes. Have senior female lawyers not been made Partner in the past because they had a baby? Yes. 

How can we apply innovation in work towards solving this? I started You Legal to deal with precisely this issue.

So perhaps, it was inevitable that I would end up running one of Australia’s first New Law firms!

3: Integrity is the one key characteristic every leader should possess.

Members of the Panel: me,
Matt Cowdrey OAM – Member for Colton and Paralympian
Heather Croall – Director and CEO, Adelaide Fringe
Hon. Steven Marshall MP – Premier of South Australia

Leaders must maintain their ability to connect with others –  their team,  markets,  clients,  supporters,  communities, peers – genuinely and authentically and stand by what they say no matter what field they are in.

As leaders, we inspire others by example and set the standards; we should take that very seriously.

Leaders, good leaders, need to have the ability to calm themselves in the eye of the storm. Our teams rely on us to be able to set aside ego and fear in the heat of the moment and lead them through adversity to brighter futures. When the worst happens, our ability to be calm, choose and take action with a clear mind and open heart are the difference between riches and ruin for all who want to follow us. Imagine the airline Captain who couldn’t maintain his composure in the event of an engine failure – that is not our expectation when we, as a society, put people into roles of leadership.

Every 90 days, I, with my team, set out to achieve a series of near-impossible tasks. To give our clients the very best that they can buy, we must be brave explorers along the horizon of possibility. We try a lot of things that most law firms are too afraid of. We return from so many of these adventures empty-handed. Does that dampen our enthusiasm? Of course not! We become braver and wiser and continue our journey forward. We test, challenge, build processes, implement technology and systems and look at all viable resources to see if we can make this happen.

Our mission is to move leaders back into action fast. A manager or executive should be able to realise that they are stuck with a risk item today and know that they will be unstuck tomorrow. That they can get back to leading their teams with zero fear in their heart and a clear head.

4:  Leadership styles – do men and women lead differently?

I would not characterise men as necessarily leading differently to women at all.  But I think we do need to acknowledge, that on some level men and women are different. However it is more a matter of leadership style, both good and bad can be adopted by both men and women. Gender has little to do with it.

Great leaders are increasingly becoming more self-aware and more collaborative in their approach. Leadership is in the spotlight because so much rides on it and rightly so.

I think that leadership is shaped by mentors, experiences, personal values and natural gifts. The way that a person’s style lands can feel different based on the receiver’s gender expectation, but that is happening at the point of delivery, not in the leader themselves. Do we adapt our communication style based on our audience? Yes. Does the leadership style change. No – just the communication style.

More then gender impacting leadership – the differences in how a leadership style is perceived carries more weight. Some people respond better to a more direct form of leadership and others a more team-based approach. It’s up to the leader to identify when they need to change their tact.

5: Technology and resourcing is the biggest challenge facing the legal industry.

You Legal has embraced both of them as part of its business model to break new ground and disrupt the way legal services have traditionally been delivered. We have effectively turned these challenges on their head.

While I was at Uni I spent 6 months in 2001 at the University of California – near Silicon Valley, and at that stage the way that technology was used there was lightyears ahead of what we had here – which you might expect, but I was so confused when I started practicing why we were not using technology more to benefit our clients.

Acting boldly in the face of uncertainty. That is to say, managing fear. It was fear 200 years ago. It’s fear today. And tomorrow it will be fear.

Members of You Legal team with
Hon. Steven Marshall MP – Premier of South Australia

Stay tuned for the second half next week!!