Leadership for Lawyers: Moving Your Team from Fear to Productivity

Lawyers have been under a lot of stress lately – from high student debt, constriction in the hiring market, client pushback on billing, alternative service providers and more. It's not just the legal sector. According to “How to Change a Culture of Fear: A good first step is to build trust with your workers,” in SHRM's HR Magazine, "employees today often face intense pressure to meet ambitious targets with smaller teams and fewer resources – and expect repercussions if they don’t." And it's hard to perform well under stress, both individually and as a organization. "Employees suffering from high stress levels are less engaged and less productive and have higher absentee rates than those not operating under excessive pressure, according to results from Towers Watson’s 2013/2014 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey of 22,347 employees in 12 countries."

Sheila M. Keegan, psychologist, consultant, and author of "The Psychology of Fear in Organizations: How to Transform Anxiety into Well-being, Productivity and Innovation," offers advice that's easy for lawyers to adapt to improve their own performance as well as the performance of their law firm or legal department.

These twin goals are also key components of legal jobs, with the second often being written into the job descriptions of in-house counsel and other supervising attorneys. So how can you help prevent – or alternatively, bring your legal team out of – a culture of fear? SHRM's article offer four suggestions:

  • Build trust

  • Improve your listening skills

  • Encourage risk-taking and reward courage

  • Treat employees with respect

Read Dori Meinert's “How to Change a Culture of Fear: A good first step is to build trust with your workers” in SHRM's HR Magazine.