I was talking with a friend the other day. (It was after a late-night ice hockey game against a team that included a columnist for this magazine, but those are other stories).
We were discussing career alternatives. As I have noted in this space before, keeping inside counsel engaged and motivated can be a challenge, but it is one of the most important deliverables that any manager has.
My friend (a recovering attorney who has worked for exchange-listed companies as well as founded start-ups), passed on a bit of wisdom he'd picked up along the way. "Don't focus so much on what your next job is going to be," he said. "What do you want your last job to be?"
The shelves at Amazon and Borders are filled with management books that make the same point, albeit often in more or better words. (The authors Covey, Blanchard & Johnson and Wooden come to mind.) Instead of surveying that literature, however, I thought I might try to apply those principles to life, or at least work, in the law.
My sense is that most attorneys are either predominantly gurus or managers. As outside counsel, being a guru might mean you're the go-to guy for employment matters, in your region or otherwise. As in-house counsel, it may mean you're the person that can cut through the volume of employment, antitrust, securities, IP, real estate, etc., advice dispensed by outside counsel to come up with actionable deliverables that reflect the risk, cost and time constraints of your company's business.
A manager is supposed to be a kind of guru as well--a guru of the human condition. Managers are people who are charged--regardless of whether they realize it--with enabling people to achieve their worth and potential.
Gurus and managers face different career challenges. In a connected world, being a guru is becoming a tougher and tougher gig. Anyone with a browser has access to the data, and so judgment and responsiveness ultimately become the differentiators between which guru to follow. In contrast, managers are usually subject to a corporate pyramid; there's only so far they can go before they're being managed themselves. Whether one is predominantly a guru or manager, managing "up" may ultimately be the most important management skill, but that's for another column.
And so, while the roles are not exclusive, my sense is the next step to the last job is to assess which camp you're in. If you are currently tasked with being a manager, you also need to do this assessment with your employees, and share it with them, regardless if it fits into the current template human resources is sending you to do performance appraisals and career development.
Once you've done that, the questions become:
1. Am I the best guru or manager I can be?
2. Am I on a path to that last job?, and (if applicable)
3. Am I helping my people (and are they helping their people) to answer these questions?
If the answer to all three is "Yes," then please contact me. I would like to work for you. If you're delivering the best advice you're capable of to your clients, and helping all of your charges and colleagues be the best they can be, well done.
If your answers are more akin to "Kind of, sort of, occasionally," welcome to my club.
One of our corporate directives at Novellus is "Recognize efforts; reward results." While it is technically be too late to make New Year's resolutions, it is not be too late to rally.
I wish you and yours the best of luck in your path to the last job, in 2010 and beyond.