See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil


The three wise monkeys of Buddhist tradition were said to represent the positive personality trait of not fixating on the negative or on evil thoughts.  But in the business world, and certainly in the legal industry, a less positive Western interpretation is often a more apt description: Avoid seeing (or hearing) the truth, because truth is sometimes unpleasant.   And by no means speak the truth if it goes against the cultural expectations of the organization!  How many law firms fall victim to this trap?

In Reinvention, the excellent 2016 book by Shane Cragun and Kate Sweetman, the "Six Deadly Blindfolds" that prevent organizations and leaders from recognizing their situations are described.  While the book goes on to provide an excellent framework and toolkit for reinventing the organization, far too many organizations are caught in one or more forms of organizational blindness that prevent them from even beginning the reinvention journey (Spoiler:  The book does provide help on breaking out of this trap!)  In our experience, far too many law firms, and even more partners within the firms, are trapped or partially trapped by these same blindfolds, and firms (and leaders) who are best at removing them are generally the most successful at adapting to the increasing challenges of our industry.  These are the firms that are widening the gap that distinguishes winners and losers.

Consider the various blindfolds the authors identify:

While this list sounds paralyzing, there is plenty of good news.  For starters, Cragun and Sweetman do provide some great thoughts on how to move past this challenge, which they believe is self-imposed.  More importantly, this challenge is not an industry challenge but rather a human organizational one.  There are plenty of law firms out there, and plenty of great law firm leaders who don't wear these blindfolds and won't allow their partners to do so.  These firms are consistently leading the charge on growth, profitability and morale, regardless of what market segment they fall into.

Many years ago, I first had the opportunity to work with an extraordinary, though at the time young, Department Chair of a then mid-size firm.  The most distinguishing leadership gift that young Department Chair had was the ability to see the situation he faced with extraordinary clarity.  No rose-colored glasses, ever!  He went on over subsequent decades to lead his firm to become one of the industry's global leaders.  He was successful because at every point along the way he fully understood where the firm was and what it had to do next - no illusions, positive or otherwise.

There are many strong leaders out there leading very good firms while taking advantage of the ability not to be trapped by institutional blindfolds.  Is your firm one of them?   We encourage all to think about the dynamic within your firm - do any of these blindfolds hold you back?  If so, what are you going to do about it?


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National Law Review, Volumess VIII, Number 52