Don’t Be That Guy

The ex-CEO of General Electric for a time had an empty corporate jet follow his own corporate jet “just in case.”

But it was a paragraph in his explanation letter that I found most instructive:

“Given my responsibilities as C.E.O. of a 300,000-employee global company, I just did not have time to personally direct the day-to-day operations of the corporate air team. I had every right to expect that it was professionally run. Other than to say ‘Hello,’ I never spoke to the leader of corporate air in 16 years.” [emphasis mine]

Now GE has lots of money invested in fixed assets, and a CEO has to manage the entire universe of his or her company. Nonetheless, even in a heavy-machinery corporation, people are essential to success.

And in a professional field such as the law, people are truly the only asset worth mentioning. Go through the websites of the top five Canadian law firms and see how many mention assets other than people on their home page. Answer: none. But each has a prominent link to “Our People” or its equivalent.

How we treat our most important asset, of course, says something significant about us. However, it’s also a pure loonies-and-cents proposition: Treat our teams well, and they will run through walls to meet and exceed our expectations.

Yet too often, as I’ve worked with legal teams, I’ve observed senior lawyers treating their staff as in that quote above – a nod, a brief hello, but no interest in either them as people or the jobs they do.

Yeah, we’re all busy, but even a few minutes of casual conversation and true interest will be rewarded many times over.

People who work for you, whether “dotted line” on a project team or reporting to you, are your assets. Their performance is your performance. And they know when things are not working well – but if you don’t have a working relationship with them, they’ll rarely tell you. And so your projects will bump along less effectively than they should. That’s not good news for you, or your firm/department, or the client.

Look back at that quoted paragraph. There is a world of difference between “personally direct” and “never spoke.”

As a project leader, you should expect your team to do their job, and micromanaging (“personally directing”) them wastes your time and makes them inefficient. However, it is your responsibility as a manager/leader – and as a human being – to engage with them, to make them feel part of the team, and to learn both what’s going well and what sand may be scouring the gears.

People who form your teams aren’t interchangeable parts, whether paralegals, lawyers, knowledge specialists, or other roles. The time you put into developing strong relationships among team members goes directly to the bottom line of your projects, even if you can’t see the connection explicitly.

Project management is a team sport.

Don’t be the person who ignores the team, or belittles them, or is “too busy” to make time for them.

Don’t be that guy.


  1. Will we soon see the day when law firms distinguish themselves in the marketplace by their proprietary AI and machine learning assets?