Chapter 13: New Role
Two weeks later, Scarlett walked over to Dorothy’s office for a meeting.
“Dorothy, thank you so much for all the help you provided me through the work with Jack. He was a wonderfully insightful guide and helped me to get my priorities in order.”
“Scarlett, I am glad to hear that. I have been hearing through many sources that you have been doing wonderfully over the last six months, and I have certainly seen the changes in you since we last spoke As a result of all of your effort, I want to offer you a position of associate partner. It’s a new position that I’ve created, and I think you would be perfect for it. It would entail leading others through the process you went through to help them get the insight that you did, much like Jack did with you. Jack is retiring and I really want to begin to bring those skill sets in house. It is not quite partner, but a step up from where you are now. How do you feel about that?”
“Wow—I don’t know what to say other than I would love to! I really enjoyed the process, and it would help me to continue to build my relationships and trust levels with others here at the firm. But how will I be able to do it all?”
“Well, it means you will need to hire more people for your team so that you can focus some of your time on this.”
“Well, as you know, I backfilled Melissa and have found a really great admin. Also I did just hire one junior associate last week, and it’s early, but it’s been going really well. So I’m looking forward to hiring another. I’m starting to take my employees on client calls with me so they learn the ropes while seeing me in action instead of discussing these appointments after the fact. Also, my clients then get to know my employees and can start to trust them, which will be important if I have my junior associates working on cases with me.”
“That is perfect. I have a group I would like you to begin working with next month. Will that give you enough time to start putting your team and thoughts together?”
“Yes,” she said. “Dorothy, I don’t know how to thank you. You have helped me so much and have been such a wonderful mentor to me throughout the years.”
“It has been my pleasure. I love to see you growing into your own and knowing that you are becoming a great leader. I also love that you took control of your career and really went after what you wanted. Trust in yourself and your own inner voice; it will always guide you in the right direction. It was a lesson that I wished I had learned much earlier in my life. I didn’t trust my own voice for a long time, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to be a mentor, particularly to you. I saw a lot of myself in you and wanted to encourage you to really trust in who you are because I see your grace and dexterity as an attorney.” She said and smiled.
“Thank you, Dorothy.” Scarlett got up and gave her a hug. She was so grateful to have such a wonderful and encouraging mentor in her life. “I am going to seize this opportunity. I won’t let you down, and I know that it is going to help me to grow even more into my role as a leader. Thank you so much.”
“You are most welcome, Scarlett. I look forward to seeing how it is progressing.”
Scarlett left the office with a skip in her step. She couldn’t wait to call Lee and give him the good news so that they could celebrate!
Chapter 12: Team Building
Over the next week or so Scarlett continued to check in with her colleagues and employees. She wanted to continue to nurture her relationships and especially see if Melissa was going to be the right fit going forward. She had been as supportive of Melissa as she could even though she was still finding many errors in her work.
She stopped by Melissa’s desk and said, “How are you doing today?”
Melissa looked up looking a little bit overwhelmed, “This project you gave me hard. I am feeling stuck again.”
“How can I help you Melissa? Can I give some of it to Steve to do?”
“No, no it is my work, but I don’t know if I can get it done.”
“Melissa, maybe this is not the right fit for you? As much as we have been working so much better together I am still seeing errors in your work. Maybe the detailed stuff is just not where your strengths lie?”
“Oh no I can’t lose this job. You know I have a son and am a single mom. I really need the money.”
“Yes, I know. I did have a preliminary conversation with Jason out in the tax division about you and he needs some help on his administrative staff. He has a much larger organization and so he has some project support that he could use help with. He was open to bringing you aboard. What do you think?”
“Well I don’t love the change, but at least I would still have a job. I know some of the folks over there and they seem nice.”
“I think it may be a better fit for you and more interesting work. I will contact Jason to make the transition happen in the next week or two.”
“Thanks Scarlett. I am sorry this didn’t’ work out. I thought I could do it and I did see some of the changes you were trying to implement, but maybe you are right that I need to move on.”
“Thanks for all that you have done for me. I do appreciate it and am glad that we could find a better fit for you.”
The next day Scarlett met again with Jack and was feeling conflicted. She felt like she was making progress in creating more balance and building stronger working relationships, but felt so bad that she had lost another admin in such a short amount of time.
“Scarlett, when people aren’t the right fit for a role it is hard on everyone. Putting the right people in the right roles is critical to the success of any good leader. That is why I wanted you to share the vision with your team to see if they were really aligned with it. Now you can see Melissa wasn’t and can work with HR to get the right person in place to take your team to the next level. Sometimes letting go is the best thing that you can do so that something better can come in. “
“I know I am not very good at letting go I have to say. I do hold on when I find people because I don’t’ want to keep training them, but I needed to do this..”
“Yes and now you know the right criteria for hiring and have built up the muscle for building strong relationships - being open and transparent in what you need out of your team.”
“You are right. Thank you for the reminder. I do feel like I have come a long way and this is perhaps a good lesson in choosing the best person for the job even if it takes a little bit longer to find. “
“You are right. So as you know this is our last session, so what do you want to focus on in our remaining time?”
“Well, I want to know how to make sure that I am keeping moving in the right direction towards my vision and then how to launch this into something bigger.”
“Well keeping your vision as a living, breathing document is the first step. We all have an idea of what we want out of our business, out of our future, but we’re human and that means we’re always changing. Combine that with a market that changes and a clientele that changes, and it becomes imperative that you keep you vision flexible and sustainable.”
“Keep revisiting it annually—and more frequently if you get stuck. Keep checking in with yourself and your team to see if you are moving in the direction you truly want to be moving in and make course corrections if you are not.
“In terms of launching this into something bigger, that is where building your relationships and truly building a vision that you can align others around come in. Just like you told me with your client Bernie, you have good relationships with clients. They want to feel cared for and valued. So keep investing in them and the future that you are helping them to create. Scarlett, let me ask you a question—do you know the value that you bring to your clients?”
“I hadn’t really thought about that—I only thought about whether they were happy with my service.”
“You have to think broader, Scarlett. In your work, you truly ensure that a person’s legacy and estate is taken care of and executed in the way that is true to their values. You are creating lasting memories with their families, and you are creating a source of gratitude in a time of grief. So know that what you are doing is making a difference. Go in with a mindset of creating value for them and build a team that is as passionate about that vision as you are. If you do all of that, then you will build a lasting, thriving, growing practice.”
“Wow,” Scarlett said. “You always have such amazing insight. I know that with my clients I always tell them to review their will and trust each year to ensure that they are still valid, and yet I never thought to do that with my own goals. Plus, reviewing my goals with my team each year will ensure that we are aligned and working towards that common end-state. I see now how important that is in bringing people together, building trust and being in alignment.
“I will begin interviewing new people for the open spot on my team as well as Melissa’s back fill now, and will use your guidance.”
“That’s great,” Jack said. “By building the right team now it will make that whole process of sustaining it, growing it, and making it thrive that much easier. People will want to be aligned with you because your vision and theirs are already so close in alignment. You will be able to truly feel the power of your team growing each day as you bring on more and more of the right people. Trust the process. It really works.”
“Thank you so much, Jack. This has been an amazing experience. Thank you for believing in me, providing me with some of the keys for leadership, and helping me create a vision I love. I can’t express how grateful I am to you.”
“Well, thank you. I appreciate the kind words, and I want to congratulate you for all the time and effort you have put into making this happen. I can only coach and guide; you have to put in the time and effort, and you’re doing it. You have made so much progress and I am so happy for you. Keep me posted on how things are progressing for you.”
“I definitely will.”
Chapter 12: Movement
Later that day, Scarlett called up her human resources department. She wanted to start the process of looking for new hires.
“Andrea, I am looking for a new team member,” Scarlett said to the HR rep.
“Oh no! Melissa didn’t work out either? She was the 10th admin in the last three years, right?”
“No, Melissa is doing fine. We’ve had a few bumps, but we actually had an important talk earlier today, and I’m hoping that we’re on the right track. I will keep you posted”
“That’s great. So then how can I help you?”
“I’m looking to hire a junior staff member.”
“Ok,” Andrea said. “I’m going to send you a questionnaire to complete. There you’ll fill out some information about the job itself and the qualifications you require. I will send you the standard description to use as a basis, and then you can tweak it as you see fit. You can add any specifics that are more tailored toward your division—estate management—so that it can really relate to what you want. I highly recommend making that description as detailed as possible. Then people will think twice about truly applying unless they are both qualified and interested.”
“Thanks, Andrea. I will look at this today and get it back to you. How long does this process take?”
“Well, the admin searches generally take at least six weeks, so I would use that as a bare minimum.”
As Scarlett worked on the questionnaire, she suddenly thought back to what Jack said about character and drive being the key things she needed to look for. She added some language around those elements, so candidates could expect it to come up during an interview, and felt confident that the conversations around these key elements would lead her to the right person.
That night Scarlett met up with Lee again. They had been seeing each other regularly over the past couple of weeks.
“How are things at work going?” Lee asked.
“They are continuing to progress really well. I’m starting the process of hiring a new person, and I am going to make sure I do the right due diligence prior to bringing that person on. Jack has really been giving me great guidance on how to choose someone. I also am really building some better relationships with my co-workers. I have asked a bunch out to lunch over the last few weeks and have been really open about some of the changes I am going through and how I am truly looking to get to know them better as colleagues. They were a bit surprised, and some are a little hesitant given my past, but many of them were open to it. And what I’ve found most surprising is that I’m enjoying learning about them and their challenges, too.”
“That’s wonderful, Scarlett,” Lee said.
“And here’s the best part,” Scarlett said with a smile. “I’m creating more balance in my life outside of work by spending time with you.”
Lee smiled even wider at that and said, “I am glad about that, too. I always enjoy our time together. You have a way about you that is so wonderful. I know now why I have been waiting for so long.”
Scarlett’s heart melted. She had been feeling the same way about Lee and was so happy that he was feeling it, too. She reached over and took his hand in hers and said, “I know why I had been waiting, too. Finally, I know.”
Lee leaned over and kissed her, and they both knew they were exactly where they wanted to be.
Chapter 11: Clients
When she met with Bernie, her client, that day he could see the spring in her step. “What’s got you looking so happy these days?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Well, I have been making some terrific progress with my team. For the first time, we’re working together on building a foundation for growth. It’s been great to have this new synergy as a group.”
Bernie, himself a retired businessman, said, “Let me tell you, having a quality team that you can trust, train, and grow is the best thing you can do for truly building a business. You can’t be a pillar all on your own. You always need other people in order to succeed and truly grow as a person, as a woman, and as a leader. You are an amazing lawyer and have been very good and professional in all of our dealings. I think it’s great that you are extending that same effort to your employees. They should be the ones you invest in the most as they will help you grow your business in ways no one else can.”
“Thanks, Bernie. I am finally realizing how important the team is and how much I used to take them for granted. I always thought my time was better spent with my clients; I didn’t realize how important it was to have partnerships with both.”
“You know, you can train your team to start seeing some of your clients as well. You will see that in the long run, it will be a better business model for you. If you do everything on your own, there is only so much you can accomplish. Personally, I have found that people who have a big support system around them usually can accomplish more because of all the people with whom they are connected. Trust in yourself and in your people. Create an environment in which they trust you because then you will gain their loyalty and admiration and make them believers for life.”
“Thank you, Bernie. Only now am I realizing the value in what you are saying. I never really paid attention before, and yet my employees are my biggest assets.”
“If you do not have the right people on board,” he replied, “it can be a nightmare. Putting the right people in the right positions is the most important thing that you can do from the beginning. Hiring the right people is a critical task. Finding them can take time, but it’s worth it.”
“You’re right. I know I have the good people in house now, but I am just learning how to add the right people to add that team. I’ve have struggled with that for years.”
“To get the right team you get qualified headhunters and executive search firms to help and also get recommendations from others if need be. You need to find good channels for getting the right people in the door. Other lawyers in your group must have found some good people. How are they finding them?”
“Yes, they have built some good teams and found some quality people. I have been asking them, but have not been able to get the same kind of people. Again, I am realizing it may be how I interact with the people I work with that has been turning them off from my office. But I’m beginning to shift the way I work with people and what I look for in people and I think that will make a big change.”
Bernie nodded and cocked his head a little to the side. “Anything else that is making you so happy? There seems to be an additional twinkle in your eye.”
Scarlett blushed a bit. Bernie had been her client for a long time and was almost like a second father to her.
“Well, I have gone on a couple of dates with a really nice gentleman. So far it has been really pleasant.”
“Only pleasant?” Bernie asked.
“I don’t want to jinx it.”
“Well, I hope it goes well for you. You deserve a nice gentleman in your life. Use the tools you are using now with your employees with him —building trust and invest time in him. The principles are similar!”
They both laughed and then got on to business. When Bernie left, she had a lot to think about. Bernie had given her really good advice both about business and about her personal life. She was suddenly thankful for all the great people in her life giving her such valuable insight.
Chapter 10: Hiring Criteria
She had a lot to discuss with Jack the next time she met him. She stood anxiously outside his door a few days later when he called her in.
“Hello, Scarlett. How are you today?”
“I’m ok. I’ve had some ups and downs the last few weeks.” Scarlett shared with him all that had happened with Steve, Melissa and Miles.
“Well as we said at the start relationships take time to develop and build. With the exchange with Melissa you are setting expectations and accountability while at the same time showing her support. In time you’ll see whether she can rise to the occasion. With Steve you saw someone who is truly aligned with your vision and can be a great resource in helping you build the team that you really want. That is great that you are beginning to de-thaw the relationship with your colleagues, as that is a good step towards building a network of support in your own ranks. Great job, Scarlett! You are really taking this on with gusto, and you are beginning to see the results. That is excellent. So what questions do you have for me today?”
“Well, I feel as if I’m building this vision, and it’s aligned with my personal values and professional goals. I am realizing that getting the vision right is the first step, and then having the right people involved is the second step. I sense I am beginning to build honest and trusting relationships with my team and with my co-workers, but how do I do that with new people coming onto the team? I am at a point where I need to hire new people and haven’t had much luck in the past.”
“In hiring,” Jack replied, “there are two different things you need to make sure you have. You’re looking for someone who not only has the technical skill sets, but also the requisite soft skills – character, commitment, and integrity. Again, you want to share your vision of what you would like to do in your division and then see if the potential hire is in alignment. You want to make sure that who you hire will stand up for what they believe in and follow through.
“Also,” Jack continued, “you want someone with drive; someone who is a hard worker and wants to be part of a thriving team. That type of person would be better than someone who is great at what they do, but doesn’t care too much about growing.”
“That’s not something you can tell by a resume, Jack. How do I determine their level of drive?”
“To see that, you must get examples of how they worked in the past and who they admire in past jobs as bosses, peers, and employees. Ask them detailed questions about not only their previous jobs, but any sports they’ve played and volunteer roles they’ve had. Also talk to their references to see how they really worked in the past.”
“Wow, that’s a lot to think about. Whenever I hired someone in the past, I just focused on getting him or her in the door because I was so desperate to find someone to take over some of the work. I wanted someone who was able to do the job and who seemed capable. I didn’t really think about how they fit in with the current team or their ability to relate to others. And I certainly didn’t think about character or integrity.”
“Scarlett, hiring is the most important thing you can do. It sets the tone for your entire team. Picking the wrong employees could throw off the whole balance. Did you rush when you hired Melissa?”
“Yes, a bit and I had some lingering doubts about her, but she was receptive to my input when we spoke this last time so that shows me her willingness to learn. She does seem to want to serve me and the clients to the best of her ability, but I just don’t know if she is capable of doing the detail oriented work I need her to do.”
“Well, you did a great thing by telling her what you needed to see from her and setting some check ins to see if she can step up into these new requirements. Let’s see how it goes, and then while you’re looking for new candidates for your team, you can also start looking for partial replacements for Melissa’s job if there are parts that you could shift to someone else. How does that sound?”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
“I also want to you to continue to build relationships with your co-workers. The more you can nurture those relationships, the more balanced and open you will feel at work. Is that enough for you to focus on for the next two weeks?”
“Yes! I’m going to start asking our HR department to look for new candidates for my team, talk with Melissa, and continue working with my colleagues. As always, thanks, Jack.”
Scarlett left with a smile on her face. She knew that she did the right thing with Melissa now and felt like she really was on a path to having honest, trusting relationships with her staff. She was going to build a team that she was proud of, whether or not that included Melissa, she didn’t know yet.
Chapter 9: Peers
After her discussion with her employees Scarlett thought about the colleagues she would want to target for lunches. She decided to start with Miles. They always had a cordial relationship and he had many good relationships with other colleagues at the firm.
She went into the lunch with a bit of trepidation after her talk with Melissa. “So how was that case a few weeks ago that you were stressed about?” Scarlett asked remembering their conversation.
“Oh it actually was a crazy case. We had a few problems that took a couple of extra days to work through, but it was worth it because in the end, as we won!”
“I’m glad it worked out.”
They bantered back and forth a bit before Scarlett finally brought up why she had asked him to lunch. “I have been realizing that I have not been taking the time to really get to know you and some of our other colleagues at work, and wanted to change that. I have started to understand the importance of building stronger relationships with peers, and I wanted to start with you because you are so good at building relationships with our colleagues.” Scarlett said.
“Well, I’m glad you reached out. I was always curious to learn more about you.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” he replied.
“What do people think of me at work? I want an honest opinion, especially from our peer level. I had a 360 review done, and some of the feedback was a surprise to me. That’s part of the reason I want to get to know people better. I feel like the impression they have of me and how I see myself are two different things, and I want to balance that out a little bit.”
“Well,” Miles started slowly, “I think people respect you and the work that you do, but do feel like sometimes you might be a bit abrupt and only focused on work, and therefore they don’t really feel like they can joke around with you or have fun with you.” Miles wondered if his honesty would result in their lunch being cut short.
But Scarlett rose to the occasion. “Yes, I guess I can see how people may perceive me that way. I have been so motivated to become partner by a certain timeframe that I may have somewhat overlooked the importance of connecting with people,” Scarlett said.
“Yeah, the people part can be the hardest part. I realized that early when my first job out of college was a sales job. Sales is all about working with people, creating relationships, and knowing how to persuade them and influence them in positive ways. Even though I went into law after that, I took those lessons to heart; getting along with people and working with them is essential for success, no matter what the field.”
“Miles, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the people skills aren’t my forte. I always believed my most important job was to get the work done and make the clients happy. I knew how to do the work, but training my employees always felt as if it took too much time. So if they didn’t do it as well as I did, I just took the work away from them, which never allowed them to learn.”
Miles was nodding his head knowingly.
“You’ve been so nice to indulge my questions—I hope you don’t mind another. How do you make the upfront training take less time? I’m swamped—I’m sure you are, too—and I don’t have as much time to train anyone new as I would like.”
“Well, it does take more time and effort in the beginning, but it’s worth the initial investment because as you now know the payback comes back in spades. Don’t you have someone on your team now? Steve, right? If so, couldn’t he help train someone new as well?”
“Yes, I have talked to him a bit about it, and I think he would actually enjoy it, but there are also some things that I will of course need to show a new person.” She paused. “I will work on my patience a little bit. Honestly, I have started to open up with them as I am doing with you and seeing the changes in my relationships with Steve, as well as the openness and honesty it’s bringing with Melissa is a big eye opener about what it could really be like to hire someone new and spend time working with them. It could actually be fun.”
Miles smiled. “I never thought I would hear you say that!”
“Me neither.” She smiled back. “Thanks, Miles. I appreciate your honesty and openness. It really means a lot to me to be able to talk about these kinds of things with someone else who is going through a similar experience.”
“No problem. Whenever you want to talk, drop on by or let’s have lunch again.”
They walked back to the office, and Scarlett felt good. For so long she had really shut herself off and kept a tightly closed attitude toward her coworkers. Now she realized how helpful it was to have someone to confide in at the office, get advice from; annd bounce ideas off of at the same level. She was going to thank Jack when she saw him the next time.
Monica Thakrar has over 18 years experience in business focused mainly on strategy, change management, leadership development, training and coaching resulting in successful implementations of large scale transformation programs.