Emotional intelligence is still the key to corporate success and influence, says Julia Chain
Last week I was sitting with a group of law students listening to them discussing the skills they thought they would need for future success. High academic achievement, good writing skills and the ability to problem solve were certainly high on the list. Understanding how people tick and ‘people’ skills didn’t seem to feature. When I pointed out that of all the skills I had acquired over the years, the most valuable was learning how to ‘read’ people and develop my emotional intelligence – the response was lukewarm to say the least! Straight A students don’t do emotional intelligence it seems!
Less people contact
This got me thinking about how we are training new generations of lawyers who, because of their familiarity with technology and the move to commoditise chunks of traditional legal practice, may have far less face-to-face contact with their clients than at any previous time. Are these lawyers going to have ‘people’ skills and do they really need them anymore? Am I the dinosaur here?
Law school training actually emphasises negative thinking skills like the ability to identify the downside and what can go wrong in the circumstances presented. Studies by the well-known American psychologist Martin Seligman demonstrate the correlation between high academic achievement in law school and negative thinking skills (Satterfield, Monahan, & Seligman, 1997). While those negative thinkers may be smart, it stands to reason that their people skills may be lacking and they won’t necessarily be good team players or good managers.
Success in the workplace
The industry leaders we talk to -- chief legal officers, managing partners and other senior lawyers -- all say that their most successful managers aren’t necessarily the smartest lawyers. Rather, the most successful are those who are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and who know how to get on with people. Of course they can spot risk, but they also can work with their clients to find ways to get to the desired goal. The fact, is academic achievements are easy to assess – how do you assess ‘people’ skills and can you learn them?
The importance of influence
The ability to influence – which also relies on interpersonal skills – is also important to a lawyer’s success.
Nabarro LLP commissioned a survey and report focusing on general counsel and influence. Of those surveyed 82 per cent felt that they would be more effective in their current position with improved influencing skills, and 88 per cent felt that improved influencing skills would increase their effectiveness over the course of their career.
What we are talking about here is emotional intelligence – which is really the ability to apply social skills to a situation. My colleagues Jonathan Middleburgh and Lucy Butterworth have just published a paper on how lawyers can use emotional intelligence as a tool to enhance their careers and also make them better at their jobs. This is all about self-awareness, motivation, developing empathy and self-regulation. You can find the article here. It’s worth reading.
The future lawyer
So I don’t think I’m a dinosaur. The fact is, lawyers of the future, particularly those in industry (although private practice is not exempt) are going to need to behave like business managers; they are going to need the skills of business managers who happen to have legal skills as well. Of course, clear thinking, problem solving and good communication skills are essential, but unless these are underpinned by empathy and a real understanding of not only what and how but why, the lawyer will never properly make the transition to business manager. Buddhism promotes the concept of ‘mind wisdom’ – the legal profession would do well to follow suit.