Thursday, October 25, 2012

Be Brave

Yesterday I spent the day surrounded by professional women at the Texas Professional Women's Conference.  It was my first year attending, but it definitely won't be my last.  I was very inspired by the success stories of the entrepreneurs and business women and the eagerness of everyone to help out the next generation of women to surpass their success.  The conference was definitely geared towards the entrepreneurial spirit, but the lessons it had to offered can be easily translated into practice tips for in house women lawyers.  I know I've got several post ideas out of the different sessions I attended, stay tuned for what is sure to be a deluge of entrepreneurial lessons to apply to in house practice.

The general theme that carried the day was one of courage.  Over and over again the panelists and presenters encouraged the audience of almost 5000 to be brave.  Take ownership of what you want and be willing to do what's necessary to get there.  Don't be afraid to ask for help or take risks - including the risk of absolute failure.

Very often we, as women and as lawyers, are so personally risk averse that we hedge our bets.  We fail to commit fully.  We frame our answers to the hard questions with weasel words like "it depends" or "I think".   It holds back our ability to gain full trust from those we are advising and our ability to move ahead in our careers. We sabotage our ability to be the best we can be because we are afraid of appearing weak by asking for help, or worse incompetent by having the wrong answer.  Combine that with the real fear of committing malpractice by offering reckless advice, and we've stuck ourselves in the back seat of our companies and our lives.

Business men don't typically have the same fears.  They tend to take on the challenges not knowing if they are capable of doing it, giving themselves the opportunity to rise above their experience.  The most successful will confidently forge ahead even when the worst case scenario is complete failure.  They don't do it recklessly, instead they surround themselves with mentors and experts to advise and guide them to the right path.  If going down a path completely uncharted they acknowledge the chance of failure and move on anyway.  They understand instinctually that you can't be a star by sitting in the audience, only by entering the arena can you shine.

As they say with most recovery programs, the first step is admitting there's a problem.  Look at your professional interactions.  Are you always sitting in the back, or at the table?  Do you naturally fill the service roll - getting coffee, taking notes, administering the meeting rather than participating in it?  Does your advice contain weasel words?  Does your voice rise when talking to your executives making you sound unsure of yourself?  If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, make a conscious effort to take risk.

Begin by arriving to your next meeting slightly early and grabbing a seat at the table instead of the periphery   Make a point to comment on the business and not just the legal.  Just one comment, it doesn't have to be controversial or even memorable at first.  Just start to participate.  When asked for your advice, don't hesitate, don't weasel or hedge the answer.  Be confident and firm in your delivery.  If you don't know the answer, tell them you'll find out and let them know in an hour.  Then do it.  If it's an uncertain area of law/business, tell them it's not fully played out yet but you'd bet that it will turn out like xyz.  Put yourself out there and know that it may result in you being brilliantly wrong.  It will be hard at first, but once you begin to believe in yourself, so will others.  Only then will you have the opportunity to shine.

My early New Year's resolution is to be brave.  I'll keep you posted on the progress I make.  For today, I'm going to make a conscious effort to eliminate the weasel words.  How will you start being brave?

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