You Are Never As Smart As You ThinkPosted: March 15, 2011
I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.
– Woodrow Wilson
When I was appointed General Counsel at Qwest in 2002, I automatically became smarter and more articulate. Or, at least, that is the way people acted in my presence. Of course, since my abilities (such as they were) had not changed one iota, I soon realized that people were less willing to question me, point out when I was wrong, and, most importantly, ask for clarity when I was unclear in my direction. And this was true not only with the lawyers in our department but with many of the outside counsel with whom we worked. This is one of the key perils of leadership and it can be particularly perilous for general counsel. If your inside and outside legal teams are not expressing their disagreement, asking for clarity when your direction is hazy, simply put: you are sunk.
Somehow, as a leader, you need to create an environment where questions are welcomed. It must be one that is respectful, so that people feel they can raise issues without getting their head lopped off (which is a challenge due to the pressure and time constraints under which in-house attorneys typically operate). Disagreeing without being disagreeable is not easy. It helps greatly if you hire people who are willing to mix it up. At Qwest we like to say, we have thick skin and it is all scar tissue. An environment where there can be aggressive push back and the advocatus diaboli is welcome is ideal. But it takes a great team (inside and out), who has worked a long time together to cultivate that culture.
What are some of your strategies to promote an environment that encourages healthy dialogue?