Bob Baradaran focuses on letting employees at Greenberg Glusker do what they do best

Help people thrive

Greenberg Glusker has a number of service areas, some of which are busier than others throughout the course of the year.

When one practice group found itself in a particularly slow cycle, Baradaran empowered the group leader to come up with a strategic plan to address the downturn.

“I let that practice group leader take the initiative to come up with a strategy to deal with what was happening in that area with coaching and resources from me,” Baradaran says, “as opposed to coming in with a very authoritative tone and saying, ‘We have to do X, Y and Z. Go execute on it.’”

It can be tricky to know when to empower and when to be more of an authority figure. Few leaders can follow one path all the time.

“For me, as a general principle, it depends on the strength of the people you manage,” he says. “In certain circumstances, you have to exercise quite a bit of authority because the person you are managing may not have the skill set necessary to do what needs to be done. In other circumstances, you may have very talented people who can do everything you can do just as well, if not better.”

One philosophy that has helped Baradaran is the idea that you don’t need everyone to be good at everything. In tight economic times, many companies strive to maximize their resources and squeeze as much out of each person or business unit as they can.

That can lead to problems if you’re not careful.

“There are people who are very good at executing particular tasks,” Baradaran says. “Some are very good at dealing with clients. Others are good at originating business. What a good leader needs to do in any organization is once they understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people, let those people focus on what they know how to do rather than try to have all of them become good in every category.”

This requires you to find people who can fill the many needs of your business. If you can do that and have people who are specialists in a particular function, good things will happen.

“Just don’t expect somebody who may be talented at one thing to also do six other things equally well,” he says. “Appreciate what they are talented at and put them in positions that make those talents most valuable for your company.”

Baradaran says there are times at the firm when he needs lawyers who can go out and drum up new business. At other times, he needs people who can simply execute the work that needs to be done.

“You just have to figure out what you need in the organization at that time and match up skill sets in the positions where they create the most value and impact,” Baradaran says.

Lead with approachability

Baradaran spends a lot of time talking to people at Greenberg Glusker from all levels of the firm, whether they are brand new to the firm or veterans who have been there for many years.

“Many times you can assess groups of people much better when you talk to the most junior folks in the organization as opposed to the most senior ones,” Baradaran says. “You have to know who your organization is and you need to communicate with them regularly. My style is not authoritative or intimidating. It’s more informal.”

When you speak to people with the mindset that you’re all working to make things happen, rather than you’re the boss and your people need to figure out how to get things done, you’ll garner a better attitude.

“It allows people to be forthcoming and comfortable expressing their views and ideas, as well as other strengths and weaknesses,” he says.

“The informality gives me a good sense of understanding where peoples’ strengths and weaknesses are because they have their guard up much less than they otherwise would if a more dictatorial figure walked into their office. In that case, they may not be as forthcoming or open expressing their true views.”

Baradaran’s style sharply reduces, if not eliminates the need to filter information before it flows to the top, says Jonathan R. Fitzgarrald, the firm’s CMO.

“The more authoritative a leader is, the more filtered information is that they receive from people who work with them,” Fitzgarrald says. “One of the benefits of Bob’s informality is people are comfortable enough to give him information as it exists, rather than through filters.”

Listen, then take action

Another component to building a strong culture is creating an environment where people feel comfortable offering candid feedback that may not always be in sync with what you as the leader want to hear.

“I ask, remind and request everybody who reports to me to not be a yes man,” Baradaran says. “Come to me with whatever ideas or suggestions you may have and never hesitate to criticize or directly challenge any ideas, suggestions or goals that I may have.”

If you have people who are afraid to speak up when they see a problem, that’s not good for anyone. They keep their mouths shut, the problem occurs and your company’s performance suffers.

“If I ask them to do something or implement something where they disagree, I want them to be very vocal about it and tell me all the time so we may have a discussion about it,” Baradaran says. “I may not change course, but I want to hear the divergent and differing views from everybody that I work with.”

That ability to listen and process information and then make a good decision is a crucial piece to effective leadership. Some leaders fall into the trap of being too open to suggestion and end up paralyzed with indecision. You want feedback but you also need to have the strength to make the best decision for your company.

“You need to act swiftly and decisively to get things done,” Baradaran says. “You can’t with 100 percent precision spend the time, energy and resources to analyze every single issue to death. Many times in a litigation context, you have the luxury of doing that. But when you’re running a business, businesses don’t operate that way. You need to be direct, swift, more pragmatic and less adjudicatory in your decision-making and your implementation.”

Baradaran is a transactional lawyer rather than a litigator, and he believes that everything he has done before has helped him be better at what he is doing now.

“You have to find your style in terms of what’s most effective to manage the people you are working with,” Baradaran says.

“It’s finding the right style for your organization to manage the folks that you work with and then motivating them to row the boat in the same direction as everybody else. Set a goal, manage, motivate and empower people to make decisions and then hold them accountable. Lead with informality, fairness and respect.”