Heroic vs. Quiet Leadership — Part 2

How do lawyers choose their leaders—or if you read the first part of this blog posting, elect their “kings”? Factors like seniority, community visibility, share of equity, and amount of business originated certainly play a role. And while lawyers may not look for regal qualities (or evidence of watery tarts), if law firms are like other organizations in America today, they will often look for the lawyer among them who has charisma, is extroverted, action-oriented, and a frequent and rapid talker.

Research into group dynamics (wonderfully described in Chapter 2 of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)suggests that these are the qualities we look for in our leaders. We generally perceive talkers as smarter than quieter types, and rapid talkers as more capable than those who talk slowly. Although we may find fast and frequent talkers more appealing, research suggests they have no greater insight or intelligence than others. Studies also suggest we have a tendency to follow people who initiate action and are charismatic or dynamic speakers. Based on this, it would seem that all leaders are or should be loquacious extroverts.

Although older studies on personality and leadership showed a correlation between extroversion and leadership, the correlation was modest and the studies were often based on followers’ perceptions of who made a good leader rather than the delivery of actual results. Recent more rigorous research has shown that a quieter, more introverted and less heroic style of leadership is often the better choice in certain organizations or contexts. When followers are passive, extroverted leaders enhance group performance; but when employees are more proactive, introverted leaders are more effective.

Lawyers may be called many things, but they are seldom described as passive employees. They are often hesitant, questioning, and skeptical followers. They require convincing and they want their concerns to be heard if not fully agreed to. Extroverted and talkative law firm leaders may struggle with this and respond by working harder at advocating their position. Quiet and introverted firm leaders on the other hand have less of an interest in dominating group discussions and find it easier to listen to others and implement their suggestions. When this occurs, proactive lawyers feel their interests are being addressed and they are participating in crafting policy and designing solutions. A quiet leadership style is particularly well-suited for law firm environments.

People don’t fit into neatly delineated categories of introverts and extroverts, and neither do law firm leaders. We are all mixtures of both qualities and our degree of extroversion/introversion may change situationally. Heroic and extroverted firm leaders can benefit by shifting gears at times and becoming quieter; and even though quiet leadership is well-suited to law firms, there may also be times when a vocal and dynamic approach is a welcome and useful change

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