The only constant is change. Here’s how you can finally prepare yourself to thrive with the reality of change in your career as a lawyer.

And if you start preparing now, you can make the most of the deep dive series on career development that we plan to launch with the start of 2018.

As that series will emphasize, planning enables strategic change. The practice of law is so demanding that it often undermines firms’ focus on planning strategy and implementation. To see how your own capacity for change relates to developing professional leadership, consider contributing to our Leadership Credibility Survey. Tell us what you think real leadership looks like here. You can expect it to take just 5-10 minutes.

What do career development, leadership development, and business development have in common? Each is about making significant changes using a strategy. This type of strategy aims to get people to think, feel, and act differently from what they do by default – without deliberate thought, planning, and action.

Intentional thought and behavior is hard. It comes at a price. That price is your comfort with the familiar and easy in exchange for embracing the discomfort of looking at your failures as data and learning opportunities. Giving up comfort is a skill and developing that ability, like any other, takes perseverance. It demands practice over time. This skill is called having the readiness and capacity for significant change. Some people will be prepared to make the necessary changes and have the capacity to do so, while others may be missing readiness, capacity or both. Always treat the development of this skill set as a separate strategy from your strategy to change your career path, improve leadership personally or organizationally, or increase revenue from new or existing clients.

Take the time to develop change readiness and capacity.

The anxiety or eagerness to make any important change quickly can short-circuit your thinking and lead you to act without deliberate consideration of first preparing to run the metaphorical race before training and developing the ability to run it successfully. Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between thinking fast and thinking slow. Thinking fast is jumping to conclusions without first notice all relevant evidence, analyzing it, and using it to come to the best conclusion under the circumstances. When we use a more intentional and deliberate thought process, we notice more, evaluate more thoroughly, and reach better solutions. To think more slowly requiring developing an awareness of when you aren’t.

Often, when lawyers are thinking quickly, they fall back on mental models that were apt for past experiences and are often useful for present experiences. One mental model governs problem-solving and relationships. This is the expert advisor – advisee relationship. Two examples are the lawyer-client relationship and the expert witness – lawyer relationship.

Lawyers fall back on this mental model when they often seek out an expert and ask the expert for advice about how to attract more clients for their law practice or get hired for a particular position at a particular salary. The underlying assumptions are that there is a single solution for their problem and that engaging the right expert will uncover that solution, which in a few short action steps will be put in place immediately. In reality, career development strategies, business development strategies, and leadership development strategies are unique for the person, team, and organization involved and for the context in which that person, team, or organization operates. Superimpose on that fact, that knowing what to do and be able to do it are not the same. This happens with individuals, teams, and organizations.

One classic example that I’ve seen in my consulting practice multiple times is a law firm (from solo to over 100 attorneys) that engages a consulting firm to develop a growth strategy. When the consulting firm delivers the written strategic plan, the lawyers can’t implement it. Only when the partners in the firm develop readiness for change are they able to move forward. It takes more time to deal with readiness later rather than sooner and often developing readiness leads to a different strategic plan than the one that is created without first doing that.

Developing readiness and the capacity for change is frequently overlooked or given short shrift. It’s an avoidable mistake. What’s the solution?

There are two steps of the solution. The first is to determine the level of readiness for change in yourself, your team, or your organization by considering the: (1) history with change; (2) need for something new and different; (3) ability to lead oneself and others; and (4) distractions and sources of resistance. The second step is to develop a separate strategic plan to develop readiness and capacity.

Determine the level of readiness with an in depth data collection and analysis plan.

  • Collect examples of past experiences with significant, sustainable change?
  • Identify the need for the change. What are the desired outcomes and benefits? How important are they? Why are they important? How urgent is the need to make the changes identified? Is there a time-table?
  • How able are the people involved to change their thinking, behaviors, feelings, and processes? Have they ever done so in the past?
  • Is there an engaging vision for the future after the changes are made? What is it?
  • What are the current, other demands on the people involved?
  • How would you describe the current emotional state, mindsets, skills, and physical state of the people involved?

Develop a separate strategic plan to develop the ability and momentum to make the significant changes that will make a difference to your career advancement, business performance, and organizational leadership. That plan should clarify exactly what you are trying to change, the reasons for making these changes, and what will be different and better afterwards. It should include specific steps to change the unhelpful assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, feelings, and processes that are maintaining the status quo.

Successful change efforts include acknowledging feelings of loss, anxiety, confusion and sadness that are frequently present with significant change efforts. They also include the details that make a vision of a post-change future vivid and believable. That said a vision is insufficient to drive new behaviors in the absence of clear goals and a clear understanding of what to do and how to do it. Finally, even the clearest of goals and action plan steps requires you to have the needed skills for your strategy to be successful.