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Managing your boss

Advice also portends changes ahead for this column

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.


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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit His...

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