In 18 years of coaching I’ve seen clients shift into more productive and happier lawyers. I’ve also seen a few clients who reverted back to pre-coaching habits over time. I get it. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been committed to changing our behaviours in some way. We might start out strong, but with time we may find ourselves slipping back into our old way of operating. Real change takes more than the courage to start and the flexibility to learn a new way of doing something: it also takes dogged persistence over time.
Business coaches can help you create a pathway to success, but at some point, you need to find a way to stay on that path on your own. I’ve had a number of clients transition out of coaching recently, and express genuine concern about how they will maintain all of the good processes they’ve put in place through our coaching. Here’s some of the advice I gave to them.
- Maintain a “no excuses” stance. A coach keeps you accountable while they work with you. Once they are gone, you can slip back into excuse mode. Here are some of the typical excuses that might resurface, and how to overcome them:
- If it’s too hard, it’s unnatural: Some people believe that if a process is difficult to maintain then it’s probably not the right process for them. When we self-sabotage regularly it becomes comfortable to us but that doesn’t make it right. Changing to a healthier way of operating can feel awkward – for quite some time. Ignore the discomfort, let go of that excuse and push through. It will be worth it in the long run.
- I’m too busy with billable work: There’s no doubt there will be times when billable work takes over your life for a while. One of the many benefits of having a documented plan is that once the dust settles, it allows you to get back on track. However, if this is your constant state then your issues are larger than a lack of time to do non-billable. Most firms expect lawyers to grow as a lawyer, but also in terms of admin skills, marketing skills, leadership skills, etc. “Too busy” usually means the individual suffers from a lack of organization, prioritization and delegation skills. This may have negative impact on their long-term evolution with their firm, as partners are less likely to put lawyers with these perceived weaknesses in positions of authority and responsibility. Either re-engage your coach to overcome this, or seek assistance from other areas of the firm. For example, some of my past clients meet regularly with their assistant to get assistance in scheduling in and doing their non-billable action items from their plan.
- I’ll do it next week: It’s too easy to delay doing something that you don’t really want to do, but it’s no excuse. If this is your tendency, you may be wasting a tremendous amount of time each week through avoidance. Life is about choices – every week, and every day. At the beginning of the week, decide what actions from your plan that you can reasonably do that week, and schedule them in. Don’t leave on Friday until they are all done. Literally. That will improve your weekly discipline pretty quickly.
- Continue to connect the activity with the desired result. Steven Covey called this beginning with the end in mind. Have a documented plan that identifies what you want to achieve (your goals) and how you will achieve those items (your activities). Review this document regularly so you can see the connectivity. It’s difficult to do something we don’t want or like to do if we can’t recall the purpose. But when we remember why we are doing the activity – because it leads us closer to a goal we really want – it becomes easier to continue doing that activity. See the activity as your means to an end.
- Reward yourself. In the early days of changes of behaviour, it can sometimes be difficult to be suitably motivated by the end goal. In that case, you might want to augment your motivation with the declaration of a reward. I’m a huge fan of rewards, provided they follow a few simple rules. The end goal must be clear. The reward must be set up in advance (don’t suddenly create reward strategies for yourself along the way). The rewards can only occur when you’ve hit the designated marketer. The reward must be significant enough that to earn it marks a real celebration of accomplishment. Tell someone about your reward system, so they can help to keep you honest. In time, you may find that you no longer need these rewards to stay motivated. Success becomes sufficient reward in and of itself.
- Use the mentor’s corner: If we get stuck on an area of our plan (or in our career) it can be helpful to ask for advice. But we might not need to go outside of ourselves for that. Some coaches have learned tricks for helping clients move into the creative problem-solving areas of their brain. One of these is called the “mentor’s corner”. The lawyer starts by writing down a question they have or issue they need resolved, then in their mind they invite three people to give them advice on the issue or question. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but an easy way to start is to think about one person whose advice you feel would be relevant on the issue, and to think: what would they say? I had a fabulous mentor through much of my in-house career; but I reached a point where I no longer needed to call him. All I had to think was “what would Ken say” and I’d realize what I had to do. Did you work with a coach for a while? Then when things go sideways in your business, or you’re stuck on a point, ask yourself “what would my coach say?”
- One final consideration: a client of mine realized that she is far more productive in the summer months than in the winter months. Some individuals experience a loss of productivity in the late fall, winter and early spring due to the lack of light. (It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD). There are lights you can buy for your desk (that you turn on for a certain number of hours per day) that can help with this condition. I have had several lawyer clients use these to positive effect.
Coaching takes real effort. My clients work extremely hard during their coaching process, and tend to make great strides in areas that were previously a weakness. When a lawyer goes through a coaching process, it’s usually because they genuinely want to see positive change in themselves. It does take conscious effort to maintain the new pathways forged through coaching. Recognize that maintenance will take discipline. Take whatever steps are necessary for you to ensure that your coaching work isn’t wasted, and that you truly do achieve the gains you are seeking.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org