Silk 2019
23rd February 2019
The last in-house lawyer
22nd July 2019

From practitioner to leader – navigating the transition by Sally Woodward.

I am often asked by my coaching clients what useful written ‘tips’ there are to help them become more disciplined, skilful and motivated to engage in the ‘leadership and management’ aspects of their role. For those appointed to a role where leading others to perform to their full potential is the primary focus for their ‘day job’, success can involve a very significant ‘reinvention’ of their sense of purpose and identity – not to mention a substantial change in what they actually spend their time doing!

If you google ‘leadership’ you will find hundreds of thousands of ‘hits’ – many advertised as ‘the sure fire top ten tips for success’ – so how to sort the wheat from the chaff?

Here is my favourite single work and author on the subject. I have consistently found that her no-nonsense style, which integrates practical tips with evidence-based research and ‘theory’ where relevant, appeals to lawyers and other technical experts who have to make the transition from being a ‘doer’ to a ‘leader’ – including those who have previously ‘led’ practitioner teams but who now have more ‘strategic’ responsibilities (whatever that means!).

She is Herminia Ibarra, formerly of Harvard and Insead now based at London Business School. (see Her ‘magnum opus’ is called Act like a Leader, think like a Leader Harvard, 2015 – and note that the order in the title is key. As she puts it:

To become a successful leader, you have to ditch the conventional “think before doing” logic and instead start acting like a leader in order to start thinking like a leader.

Nonetheless she does advocate having some guidelines to help focus one’s ‘learning by doing’. Her key mantra is ‘what got you here won’t get you there’ and her three supporting messages are:

1. Redefine your role – and purpose and what success means and looks and feels like for you.

2. Broaden your network – get out from behind the desk and from inside you own team. You will need to develop at least three networks – personal, operational but especially a strategic network in order to succeed – and to stay sane! Moving outside your area of expertise is critical.

3. Rethink what being ‘authentic’ or true to yourself means and requires. It is not a cloak or excuse for rigidity and failing to adapt/change and to develop new skills and ways of interacting with others to help them to be and do their best.

If you prefer to watch – she expands on these themes in a number of talks online: e.g. (networking) (authenticity)

If you want to try her writing style before buying the book, try: