Byte of Prevention Blog

by Camille Stell |

In the Lending Library: Lessons in Leadership: Essential Skills for Lawyers by Thomas C. Grella

lending libraryAsheville lawyer, Tom Grella, is the author of the ABA publication, Lessons in Leadership: Essential Skills for Lawyers.

In Tom’s book, he states, “not only are lawyers difficult to manage, they are even more difficult to lead.” Tom served for 12 years as the managing partner for his firm, McGuire Wood & Bissette in Asheville, as well as serving as the Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section. I expect that Tom knows quite a bit about the difficulties of leading lawyers. Yet, Tom finds leadership to be deeply fulfilling, though something that is always a work in progress.

Tom opens his book with a John Maxwell quote, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” For people who have followed “leaders” who lead by force, rule or intimidation, this is a welcome definition. How can you be a leader by influence?

Respect. Do not rely on your title as “leader” to earn you the ability to lead. Being an effective leader does not happen when the new leadership term begins. Rather, respect is a journey we take together. I see you in action, I hear that your words match your actions and over time, I trust you. You have earned my respect.

Trust. A leader creates an atmosphere where mutual trust resides. It takes time to develop trust yet trust can be squandered in an instant. Trust grows when our actions speak louder than our words. An effective leader does much more than make an impassioned inaugural address when stepping up to lead the committee or the organization.

Be positive. Being positive is not the default attitude for everyone. Those with a negative outlook on life or a negative view of their organization are going to have to work hard to overcome negativity. Negativity will weaken company morale, it will defeat your managers and it will beat down your employees. We have the ability to improve our attitude and to increase our positivity quotient. But first you must realize that negativity is going to hurt your leadership ability and you have to make efforts to work around it.

Be authentic. Tom says, “Allow followers to be honest with you, and be honest with them. Such honesty is difficult in a law firm, largely because of the very flat organizational structure, with licensed lawyers on the top level and everyone else beneath. Empowerment is about giving someone else the power not only to take action but also to speak up honestly without the fear of negative consequence. Authenticity needs to be understood as a two-way street.”

Vision. A leader’s job is to motivate the members to create organizational purpose. Or vision. Your law firm should have a vision. Your bar organization should have a vision. An effective leader guides all members towards that vision rather than having members off on disparate journeys. Tom quotes Andy Stanley, “Vision is a preferred future. A destination. Vision demands change. A vision requires an individual who has the courage to act out an idea.”

Courage. A leader will make difficult decisions. A leader will look for the path less traveled. A leader will look to the future rather than reviewing the past. Tom uses the example of dealing with difficult situations head-on as courageous, rather than implementing policies as an easy way out. Every law firm leader I know has chosen the option of expanding the dress code, rather than having difficult conversations with individuals about using good judgment in choosing professional dress. Be courageous and your members will follow you.

“We need better leaders” is a common refrain for every ill facing us from politics to religion to business. How can you improve your leadership skills this year?

  1. Find a mentor. Look for a firm leader or a bar leader and ask for guidance.
  2. Be a student. Listen to podcasts, one of my favorite ways of learning. Search for leadership topics on your app or Google.
  3. Read. Lawyers Mutual’s Lending Library, a free service available to our insureds, includes Tom’s book on leadership, as well as “Learning to Lead: What Really Works for Women in Law”. Visit our website,, to view books and checkout procedures.
  4. Visit the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro or online at, for articles and classes.

Good luck in becoming the leader that others desire to follow.

The Lawyers Mutual Lending Library is a free service for policyholders and their staff, covering topics such as practice management, technology, rainmaking, finance, opening a law firm, and transitioning a law practice. Visit us at



About the Author

Camille Stell

Camille Stell is President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services, offering succession planning, business development coaching, keynote presentations and more. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at or 800.662.8843.

Read More by Camille >

Related Posts