When inside counsel call our firm to ask about new opportunities, we often hear some version of “I don’t like my boss” as the key motivator for seeking a move. The more vocal this complaint gets, the more likely it becomes that we will see multiple employer changes over a short period of time when we see the individual’s resume. It is also very unlikely that we will ever present that resumé to a client.
I borrow this month’s column title from a Harvard Business Review article written more than 30 years ago, but as timely as ever. Google the title and authors Gabarro and Kotter for a very worthwhile read. I thank a client for handing it to me as part of his guidance on culture fit for his law department. The summary: Successful people treat their boss as a client and adapt to serve the boss’ work style.
This is far from advice just for junior folks navigating up the pyramid. I had the privilege of participating in InsideCounsel’s most recent Project 5/165 workshop, and this theme ran throughout a program devoted to preparing high-potential senior women for general counsel positions. I can’t mention names, because confidentiality is critical to the workshop’s open and candid discussions. But I took pretty good notes.
So, please trust that I am quoting a Fortune 500 general counsel talking about managing a CEO change: “I had a great relationship with my CEO; he liked summary answers and very short meetings. That suited me. I felt empowered. The new CEO likes to play devil’s advocate and will spend an hour immersing in detail. I wanted him to just let me do my job, and I even wondered at first if he had confidence in me. But I adapted to the new style, he takes my advice, and now we get along fine.”
To continue thriving in a role and for a company that she loves, this GC understood intuitively that the burden was on her to make the new reporting relationship work. And work well.
I am about to take this advice to heart. Starting next month, the feel of this column will change considerably. I am going to move away from a first-person approach to offering career advice. In the months ahead, I am going to experiment with various formats for relaying advice from successful general counsel. We may also profile some high-potential future GCs here.
This change comes at the suggestion of InsideCounsel’s new publisher, the man behind career-focused initiatives I mentioned last month. I welcome the change, because I want to align myself with the culture at InsideCounsel. This new direction also happens to be a really good idea.
I will miss writing for you in such a personal manner. But as we get this new format right, I believe the Career Advice column will become an even more useful tool for you. I hope you will value tips from your peers and enjoy learning about the career paths taken by fellow inside counsel. As always, I will welcome and appreciate your input and suggestions as we move forward.
Over the past three years, I have offered lots of specific suggestions for success, emphasizing the broad theme of making your own luck. For my final column in this format, I will lead by example and take my #1 piece of career advice: Embrace change.