Bob Baradaran was happy leading the real estate transactional group at Greenberg Glusker and serving as general counsel to companies in the real estate, sports and entertainment sectors. The idea of ascending to the role of managing partner was not something he had ever thought about.
But when the opportunity presented itself earlier this year, Baradaran got right to work with the same high level of energy he has always brought to his clients.
“What I do every day for my clients is solve problems and try to understand their business,” says Baradaran.
“My goal is to find ways to improve their business and execute on their strategic plans and goals. So the transition of doing that daily for my clients to effectively doing it within our organization was pretty seamless.
“While I previously developed plans in concert with my clients, now I do that for the firm.”
Baradaran is just the fifth managing partner at the firm since it was founded in 1959. Stability has been a hallmark of the firm’s leadership, but the same cannot be said for the legal market.
“There are quite a few changes happening in the legal market and as a result, the biggest challenge is the change we’re going through internally to adjust,” Baradaran says.
“Whenever you have change, you have challenges. At the same time, that change can be a big opportunity.”
Baradaran has a style that reflects both authority and approachability, which has helped him effectively lead his team of some 100 attorneys.
“At the end of the day, when you’re managing an organization, you need to have a vision and a plan and you need to find ways to execute that plan,” Baradaran says. “You need to energize and motivate people to help you execute that plan. It’s all about managing relationships and motivating people — something I really enjoy doing.”
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.”
- Be strategic about your training processes.
- Lead with humility.
- Don’t get carried away with analyzing a problem.
The Baradaran File
NAME: Bob Baradaran
TITLE: managing partner
COMPANY: Greenberg Glusker
Born: Tehran, Iran
Education: Bachelor of science degree, finance and business economics, University of Southern California; juris doctorate, University of Southern California Law School.
What was your first job? My first job was in high school. It was at a pizza store in Beverly Hills, I worked the cash register and was the pizza delivery boy. I greeted, I took money and every once in a while I delivered a pizza that was within walking distance.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? My wife, Natasha. She is a smart, highly educated, incredibly driven person who works harder than I do and she does the best she can in everything. Whatever it is, she gives it 110 percent. When I say that I try to surround myself with people who are smarter and more talented than I am, my wife is by far smarter and more talented than I am.
She speaks five languages, she has a master’s in political science from Columbia University and she has a very successful business. But what she does that I find so inspiring, is whether it’s work or family, she does it at 110 percent. When you do that day in and day out, when the opportunities arise, you’re in a very good position to take advantage of them.