3 Traits Of Best-In-Class General Counsel
Cynthia Dow, Melissa Swift
The Law360 article, "3 Traits Of Best-In-Class General Counsel," bylined by Russell Reynolds Associates' Cynthia Dow and Melissa Swift, examines the key attributes needed to be a top performing general counsel. The article is excerpted below.
Today’s challenges require a new style of general counsel and our data show the key attributes. A confluence of factors — increased globalization, more technological disruption, and dramatically amplified government oversight — have put the GC function at the center of a corporate maelstrom as never before. Whereas in previous eras, GCs were charged with simply having deep functional expertise and exceptional advisory skills, today they are expected to handle boards adeptly, possess nuanced commercial and operational judgment, and be comfortable interacting with stakeholders in a highly visible manner. The GC is expected to move nimbly from issue to issue and not just to respond but anticipate; as such, as a 2012 HBR article noted, GCs have claimed advisory airtime from both outside law firm partners and other members of the C-suite. Particularly where there is an overlay of significant regulation — and where there is not — the GC plays a fulcrum role in the C-suite.
This seismic shift raises a key question — what are the personality attributes of this new breed of general counsel and specifically of the best general counsel? New research from Russell Reynolds Associates paints an interesting picture of the attributes that facilitate the success of best-in-class GCs. The study compared 78 top legal executives to their proprietary database of more than 5,000 corporate executives across 60 key psychometric attributes. When best-in-class general counsel (as defined by tenure in role combined with positive qualitative appraisal from industry peers) were analyzed compared to other top legal executives, three core traits emerged: decisiveness, dynamic leadership, and an inclination to cut through bureaucracy. In aggregate, this profile functions as a veritable mirror image of the analytical, technically adept but often risk-averse lawyer stereotype. While senior lawyers share a set of distinctive traits relative to the broader C-suite that reflect their intuitive thinking style, comfort in teams, execution orientation and pragmatism, the best-in-class GCs have a unique set of traits related to action and getting results that is striking.
Examining each trait individually yields further insight:
1. Decisiveness. Best-in-class general counsels are 18 percent more decisive than their top legal executive peers. In practice, this translates to far less time spent on “analysis paralysis” and a more streamlined approach to decision-making. It’s not that this group is short-cutting the needed analysis for any given decision; rather, deep immersion in business context and confidence in their approach allows them to move through the necessary steps with ease, agility, speed and the courage of their conviction.
2. Dynamic leadership. Further belying the stereotype of the responsive yet unassuming GC, best-in-class general counsels are 18 percent more likely to display dynamic leadership. They engage others, including increasing large and dispersed teams, through a high level of personal energy. Moreover, deploying a curious and expressive nature, they actively play to an audience.
3. Cut through bureaucracy. Perhaps most strikingly, best-in-class general counsels are 36 percent more likely to cut through bureaucracy. This is an astounding finding given that GCs are generally seen as the greatest champions of rules and regulations. The best of the group are clearly leveraging their unique and unparalleled understanding of the rules of the game to simplify processes and allow others to make headway toward business goals.
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