The Chosen Few: why successful lawyers don’t always become successful leaders.

The Chosen Few:  why successful lawyers don’t always become successful leaders.

There is limited over-lap between the qualities that make someone an effective lawyer and those required to successfully build and manage a law firm of practice area.  Edward Walker, director of Anima & Atman, examines the link between personality and leadership potential and the implications that this has for law firm succession planning.

Measuring potential

Most people who come into regular contact with lawyers will agree that they are ‘a bit different’, although the anecdotes offered to justify this point of view will vary – and some will be more flattering than others!  But what exactly are these differences and are they a help or a hindrance?

Research has shown that cognitive ability and personality are both important predictors of leadership potential.  Assessing cognitive ability is a key aspect of most law firm selection processes but personality testing is used far less frequently.  This means, while most firms can be confident that they are recruiting ‘smart’ lawyers, valuable information is often missing, when trying to identify lawyers with the potential to succeed in leadership roles.  Unsurprisingly, promoting the wrong people into strategically important roles, can have a highly negative impact on a firm’s financial performance.

My research used a psychometric test called the High Potential Traits Indicator (HPTI) to measure six personality traits that have been found to predict leadership potential.  The findings are based upon the responses of over 100 UK-based commercial lawyers, whose test results were compared with those of over 1500 professionals working in other industries.

Too cautious to lead?

Analysis of the data showed that on average there were significant differences between lawyers and other business professionals in their attitude to ambiguity and risk.  The results suggest that lawyers are more likely to try to avoid problems or situations that involve high levels of uncertainty or that are perceived to be difficult or threatening.  While this type of behavior may be highly adaptive when performing the role of lawyer, as it can help clients avoid making mistakes and getting invo

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