Listening to a law firm
administrator explain how he handles internally sensitive issues at his law
firm over a business dinner one evening, I remarked, "You're a benevolent
dictator! Sounds like it's working for you! Management by consensus may be an
easier path, but it is a sure path to confusion, or worse, inaction, right?" He
agreed, but added that it wasn't for the weak of heart because it did not come
easy. A few days later I was contacted by book publicist Kevin Small,
requesting a review of an advance copy of a new book, The Benevolent Dictator, by
Michael Feuer, co-founder of OfficeMax and founder of Max-Wellness. What a
coincidence! I eagerly agreed and dove into the book with relish, hoping to
glean some nuggets to be passed along to my clients and colleagues in the legal
profession. I was not disappointed. I hope you'll too find lots of
encouragement and ideas. Then, share them with the readers of the VMO blog.
This book is a gem. There are
practical lessons that we already know but will benefit from re-visiting and
others that were entirely new to me. Here's the short list of what this book
has to offer:
of my favorite chapters.
Anyone who has a role in launching
ideas in their law firm will totally relate to Chapter Six: "GOYA-The only way
to really test an idea."
"You should... begin by undertaking a
process in which I'm a big believer: GOYA, or, Get Off Your Ass. ...Take that
idea and start testing it. ...Go to places where people shop and buy. Walk around
and watch how they do it. You envision how your idea would make it better,
easier, and faster for people to do something that they're currently doing
poorly, with difficulty, or slowly. You see if your concept has legs."
Now, you might argue that in the law
firm it's not about shopping and buying. And I would counter: It is! Nothing
will get you to the table quicker than if you truly understand how your clients
(i.e, partners, management, bosses, etc.) work in order to get them to buy into
a new idea.
Have you ever been on the line for a
client's success, been responsible to bring in a million dollars in revenue, or
felt the demands on the one commodity lawyers have to sell-time? If not, before
you present that new idea - walk a mile
in a lawyer's shoes-it ain't easy. How busy lawyers juggle multiple clients,
stay up to date on the law, and find time to develop new business can be a
herculean task! (Not to mention family, philanthropy and oh yeah, personal
time.) A CEO, COO or CMO (Director, Administrator or manager-whatever your
title) with an idea and only a vague concept of the impact the idea will have
on the practicing lawyer is certain to be less effective. The Benevolent
Dictator will inspire you!
Communicating, Cut to the Chase.
"One size never fits all, and events
must dictate your tactics. This means that as the boss, you must instinctively
understand when to be an observer and when you must get your hands very dirty,
very quickly-in order to survive, succeed, or excel."
Assertions that start with a
negative followed by a litany of unpleasant consequences will be counterproductive.
(Avoid being forced to focus only on the risk factors!)
"It's certainly true that you must
tell your team members what they need to know, not just what they want to hear.
Sprinkling perfume on a smelly problem doesn't make the fragrance better. ...But,
starting with statements like, 'If we don't increase sales in the next month,
we might have to let go of many of you,' or, 'We either save money on expenses,
or we go down the tubes' ...is counterproductive."
It's common sense, but we get into
bad habits. Feuer suggests that you can jump start acceptance by explaining the
issue and the anticipated fix by using a logical, positive tone and focusing on
the good rather than the bad. However....
"If some of your people ignored this
first sweet-laced mandate, then home in on those who might need a trip to the
woodshed to understand what you really meant. Target your second message to the
noncompliant laggards with the old school, stronger-style message, as in, "What
part of 'no' didn't you understand? If all else fails...a ton of bricks will get
the job done, too."
Ah...the Benevolent Dictator! I love
Feuer's writing style and I think you will too. There's great advice on
handling crisis, growing your company (i.e. law firm), and gaining trust and
respect from your employees (and your own bosses!). Seriously, I know I recommend
a number of business books from time to time, but this one is a must read.
Truly practical, sensible advice that everyone in the legal profession needs to
read-lawyers, managing partners, marketing partners, administrators, COOs, IT,
Human Resources, and of course CMOs! Do yourself a favor. READ THIS BOOK. Then come back and drop
a note about a nugget you found and share the wealth!
co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own
money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000
stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling
this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched
another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain
featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a
number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on
business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. "The Benevolent
Dictator," chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create
wealth. Published by John Wiley & Sons in
late spring 2011.
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