When Jeffrey M. Mintz stepped into the role of managing partner at Jackson Lewis LLP in 2006, he was starting a new chapter in the firm’s history by succeeding someone who had been in that role for 25 years.
“The immediate challenge was related to the transitional process itself,” says Mintz, who stepped back into the partner role late last year. “We had a 25-year status quo.”
He had to quickly develop confidence internally with about 50 employees and externally with clients that, while there was a new leader, everything was still going to be strong moving forward.
Smart Business spoke with Mintz about how to transition your organization into new leadership.
How do you develop confidence with people?
It’s very important to presume capability. Doing so creates new opportunities for the people who work for the firm, which results in experience, and experience breeds confidence, and that creates client appreciation. If you focus on the opposite — inability — it becomes self-fulfilling and provokes negativity and it erodes morale.
What I was able to explain to our staff was our record demonstrates that when we focus on what people can do, they do it. When the individuals do it, we succeed as a team. We were starting from an expectation that they were going to succeed. That drove people immediately in the right direction.
What was one of the most important things for you moving forward?
I knew you have to listen effectively. If we listen effectively and are aware of others and their perspective, then you’re much more effective at developing the road map to get you from point A to point B, C and D. I also recognized the importance of effective two-way communications and developing people and their personal stakes in the success of the business. I think responsiveness is very important and people tend to react and contribute more effectively when they’re viewed as a meaningful player and participant.
What’s the key to effective listening?
I look before I talk. When I walk into a client’s office, I’m very aware of the surroundings. You can learn a great deal of what a person feels is important. Ultimately, you’re going to pick up on what the individual may find powerful and persuasive by looking around to see what’s on the wall or the credenza or what’s not on the wall or credenza, how the desk is set up, and what the furniture looks like and the order of things — or the lack thereof.
That provides a great deal of context and information, and it’s very meaningful messaging without a word being spoken. If you can pick up and read those nonverbal signals, it will enable you to listen and see beyond the spoken word when the client is reacting, and then you can better tailor your tone and the substance of your remarks to try to accomplish the end objective. Effective communication involves effective observation and listening much more than effective articulation.
What advice would you give other leaders taking over in a new role?
It’s important to be realistic and to recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach with respect to the individuals on the team. Don’t hesitate to make the tough decisions after listening to everybody. It’s more important to be confident and to be intelligently aggressive and take chances after doing your risk-reward analysis, but failure to take chances and use intelligent risk will preclude the organization from moving forward. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable. If you avoid conflict, you’re credibility will be undermined. People want responsiveness even more than they want the answer that they want to hear, and that’s very important from a good leader. A good leader has to be consistent and somewhat predictable in terms of the format and the approach you use as opposed to the message that you deliver.
How to reach: Jackson Lewis LLP, (404) 525-8200 or www.jacksonlewis.com