By Julie Henson, Chief Client Officer at Taft
Feedback is the cornerstone of my career’s success. I’ve sought it, received it and provided it regularly from the moment I signed my first offer letter. It takes a special skill set to deliver tough feedback, and a stronger one to hear it, digest it and learn from it. Having worked with athletes and attorneys for over two decades, I’ve witnessed professionals at the peak of their career excel beyond their perceived limits. I’ve also seen them stumble and fall — hard. In the majority of such cases, it’s due to a lack of self-awareness and inability to internalize feedback.
My most rewarding work is coaching the firm’s clients on personal leadership and development skills. These exceptional businesspeople are not just open to feedback; they seek it out and use it to move their careers and teams forward.
Those that effectively use feedback are the same professionals I see being promoted, making more money, becoming indispensable to their teams and ultimately getting more enjoyment from their work. In part, it’s because their companies employ feedback beyond the annual evaluation process, using it as a daily practice among team members. It is part of their culture, and what helps them become innovative industry leaders.
This couldn’t be further from the approach to feedback in today’s law firms.
Lawyers are often comfortable providing substantive feedback on billable work, but find it challenging to provide personal and emotional feedback. Studies show that lawyers demonstrate lower resilience than the general public, which explains why feedback is an uncomfortable task. Add in a healthy dose of skepticism and lower-than-average sociability, and you can see the full picture.
What if lawyers could move beyond that generalization and approach feedback the way their clients do? And how can we, as legal marketers, wake up our lawyers to the importance of this practice?
Start by connecting with lawyers you already have a good relationship with and ask them what feedback they have sought from clients. Nine times out of 10, they will answer with “our clients love us” or “I already know what they are thinking.” If asking clients for feedback isn’t a regular practice, you can help them develop the habit and become more confident in asking for feedback and educate them on why it is so important. Remind them that their clients use feedback every day, and probably wonder why you haven’t asked.
If you want to up your attorney coaching game, below are tips to share with lawyers to guide their path toward growth and confidence.
Connect With a Trusted Advisor
Be it a friend, a colleague or an outside coach, this is a person must know you well, and you must have the capacity to trust them. Share your commitment to stretch yourself and your desire for increased self-awareness. If you are not accustomed to hearing real and true feedback, start small. If you are on a client call with a colleague, ask for feedback afterward. Consider first sharing what you think you could do better. If you really want to put some muscle behind it, seek an outside coach. Every successful leader I know from CEO to managing partner has a coaching relationship. Professionals who strive to be better know they can’t do it alone.
Ask Your Clients for Feedback
Business professionals are in regular feedback cycles, and your request for an assessment will be met with respect and willingness to share their perspectives. If you are uncomfortable asking or feel there is a deep issue to resolve, engage your client development department or a third-party resource to conduct a client interview. Client feedback will give you the insight you need to improve service and set you apart from the competition. Remember, most attorneys avoid feedback at all costs. Asking for it will set you apart.
Make It a Priority
When you regularly ask for feedback and use the information for growth, it becomes a habit. You begin to pause and ask yourself how you can improve. Creating space for this internal dialog keeps you accountable and open to growth.
Most Importantly: Use It
The worst outcome of receiving feedback is wasting it — especially if you requested it. You cannot receive feedback from a client and not act on it without risking the relationship. While it’s not always easy to hear, digesting it and acting on it is essential. Make a plan. Follow through. Reward yourself for your efforts and your outcomes.
Asking for feedback isn’t a weakness, it’s a superpower. As the trusted advisor for the lawyers you work with, you are in a position to make an impact on their success and happiness. It’s an essential tool for success and your lawyers will be thankful you woke them up when they see the response they receive from their clients and colleagues.
Julie Henson is chief client officer at Taft, where she drives business development through business planning, sales training and client feedback. Henson helps lawyers navigate the intersection of business and law to expand their practices, grow revenue and spark innovation. You can contact Julie at JHenson@taftlaw.com.