We have a particular client who has a penchant for getting in touch a few days before Christmas, requesting we design and deliver a programme by the end of January. We are of course always up for the challenge, but this brief was particularly interesting. How does the legal function in a major global business become more ingrained in the day-to-day business decision-making processes. How do subject matter experts break through the confines of their specialism and contribute more effectively to strategic and commercial decisions.
This was too interesting an idea not to explore and develop (over Christmas), and through a number of conversations with the General Counsel, some members of the legal function leadership team and a handful of business heads, we were able to pinpoint both what good looked like and where the team felt they were currently.
Clearly, there was some technical financial knowledge required as well as a deep understanding of the business’ operations and markets. But what was clear to me was what I would call the ‘soft-skills deficit’. There were lots of questions along the lines of how do we frame things from a business rather than a purely legal perspective? Or how do we pitch ideas that really engage our business partners? How do increase our authority and confidence in our view? And how do we make our points succinctly while making them memorable and shareable?
Over the course of one-and-half days, we worked with the team on these and other challenges, and by the end of day two, even the most sceptical of legal minds had been won over to the benefit of developing and honing these soft skills. What I find most interesting is that this is a challenge that many functions face. Arguably, the most widely embraced is probably finance for obvious reasons, but after that the ability of functions to really connect with the bigger business agenda becomes ever more questionable. Closing the soft-skills deficit is one way to go about finding an answer.
Take a look at most of the studies that explore the traits of successful leaders, and you’ll see communication is usually close to the top. In a study by the Leadership Council in late 2015, it came out as THE critical skill. We’ve all been witness to the talented executive who struggles to make it to the next level, held back by their abilities to inspire and influence on a grand scale.
A lot of our work is angled towards the C-suite and senior leaders, with a healthy dose of development for emerging talent thrown in for good measure. But I’ve been asked several times in the last few months about communication support for frontline leaders, and when that happens, it usually means there’s something going on that’s worth exploring.