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Leading and managing in-house teams

‘Leadership is not about your job title – it’s about your approach’

For the fifth webinar in our 2021 series in association with Thomson Reuters, two senior in-house lawyers joined CLL’s Anthony Inglese and Paul Bentall to explore leadership and team management.

Rebecca Staheli is Head of Competition Law and Regulatory Law at the BBC, a role she has held since 2014. Before joining the BBC, Rebecca led on competition and consumer law advice within the GC function of the Office of Rail and Road and the Civil Aviation Authority. Rebecca originally trained as a barrister, having been called to the bar in 1989. She has a particular interest in coaching and mentoring and has participated in many mentoring schemes at the BBC and elsewhere. Rebecca is also a qualified Executive Coach.

Richard Macmillan is General Counsel of Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Richard trained in the city, qualifying as an employment lawyer. After representing corporate clients, he moved to claimant and trade union work before moving in-house with the British Heart Foundation (BHF). After leading the Legal and Governance team at BHF for a few years, he took up his present role. Richard advises the trust on a range of issues with a particular focus on research and development. He also oversees legal services for Project Oriel, a construction project for a new hospital and research centre at St Pancras, London.

What is leadership?

A great starting point when discussing leadership is to define exactly what it is – and what it is not. Our guest speakers agreed that leadership is about far more than merely managing workflows and ensuring things get done. At its most fundamental level, leadership is about setting the emotional tone and bringing the required energy to your team. It’s also about being curious about your colleagues and clients. What motivates them? What are their ambitions? What can we do to help them achieve their goals?

Another sign of a good leader is the willingness to grasp the nettle and initiate difficult conversations. It can be difficult to develop this side of your leadership style – but not as traumatic as dealing with a legacy of unresolved issues and behaviours.

Putting it into practice

So far so good. But what do great team management and leadership look like on a daily basis? An excellent way to approach this question is to break it down into three parts:

1. Create a strategy
Start by defining your vision and objectives for your legal team. This will help you set the tone and align your department to your organisation’s wider goals. Assess any issues that could present obstacles to your objectives and plan (and budget for) the actions you’ll need to take to negate them. This will enable you to fine-tune the purpose of your team and build relationships with other key stakeholders. And from here you’ll develop a good idea of the type of people you’ll need to recruit.

2. Empower your people
Once you’ve recruited the right people into your team, the next big challenge is to trust yourself to trust them. This is easier for some leaders than others, however, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. When you let good recruits fly, the chances are they’ll develop excellent client partnerships – which will reduce the time you’ll spend on oversight. It’s also great for succession planning. When the time comes for you to move on (or up), you’ll have a good idea of who is best placed to take on your role. 

3. Develop the talent in your team
Different people develop at different paces and in different ways. As a good leader, be aware of what motivates and drives every individual. Some, for example, may talk openly about how they want their careers to progress. Engage with them and help then hone the skills they’ll need tomorrow as well as today. Others may like to take on outside work, such as trusteeships or voluntary roles with not-for-profits. Where you’re happy that this activity won’t adversely affect a team member’s role in your department, encourage this. They’ll probably develop skills and knowledge that will benefit your team in the long term. Similarly, when opportunities arise for lawyers in your team to lead new projects, grasp then with both hands.  

How will I know if I’ll make a good leader?

If you’re curious about people, trust your gut instinct and understand who your team is there to support, you have, in all probability, the aptitude to lead. Because, as a wise man once said:

‘You don’t lead by hitting people over the head - that’s assault, not leadership’
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Please find the full recording of this session here.

Next event: 23 November. Concluding the 2021 webinar series in conjunction with Thomson Reuters is The in-house lawyer – working effectively across the organisation. Find out more and book here.

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