Hindsight 20/20: What I’ve Learned from Successful CMOs
Many of you are aware that I was in the CMO role for over a decade. It was not without its challenges, and there were moments when it felt like pushing a boulder up a hill, but I really loved the position. I loved being in the hot seat to drive innovation and growth, seeing our lawyers succeed while deepening relationships and being part of a meaningful sea change for the firm. On most days, I felt valued and appreciated by leadership and the lawyers, and I loved mentoring and developing a team to help them accomplish their personal and professional goals.
As they say about raising kids, the days were long and the years were short. I often worked 60+ hour weeks and I never felt there were enough hours in the day. I never ended a day feeling as though my desk was cleared and I rarely started a day without some fire drill or unexpected hiccup to refocus my priorities. Looking back, I think I did some things really well and I don’t know that I would change too much. Still, I have had the pleasure of working with some incredibly successful CMOs while at WPG, and it has recently made me reflect on what the best of the best do to stay committed, energized and impactful:
- They frequently (quarterly/bi-annually) step back and assess how they are spending their time (both individually and as a department) to ensure that it aligns with the firm’s priorities and goals. Then they make big changes if priorities are misaligned.
- They meaningfully connect with top leadership and rainmakers of the firm to understand their businesses, priorities and challenges and build relationships with those individuals to become critical to their success.
- They get out of their offices, walk the halls and other offices and learn about their lawyers’ clients and businesses.
- They are strategically aligned with the client’s voice and know what matters most to the client as well as any lawyer in the firm.
- They build strong teams around them and obtain great joy from seeing their team shine and receive proper credit.
- They make it clear what they (individually and as a department) do best and utilize senior leadership to help them tell the lawyers where they are not going to spend their time.
- They communicate efficiently, effectively and consistently, understanding the mantra that you can never communicate too much in a law firm.
- They utilize outside resources to be strategic extensions of their team and use those resources to help create change in the firm with outside and industry perspectives.
- They produce results and metrics that reflect senior leadership’s defined goals.
- They don’t feel that they need to be at every meeting, at every seat at the table or driving every initiative. They step back and prioritize where they are needed most and delegate strategically.
- They are relentless in the pursuit of change, growth and meaningful client experience and they don’t let one lawyer, one practice group or a few sour grapes tire them. They rise above and bring those people along later.
- They are hungry for knowledge and insight from others, and they never stop learning.
- The success is never about them.
Stepping away from the immediate and (often) unimportant can be challenging with hundreds of lawyers fighting for your time and attention. As the leaders driving the most important aspects of your business, it is critical to step back and make sure you are charting your own course and not letting the loudest squeaky wheel or lowest dropping ball swallow your energy and focus.