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360 degree appraisal and a high performing law firm partner

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“I’ve only got 45 minutes, so can we get straight to the point?” said Charles, the head of corporate law as he strode into the room. The “point” to which he was referring was our meeting to go through his 360 feedback. The “point” that he actually wanted to make was that he didn’t really want to hear the views of others.

Coaching this high achieving City law firm partner had proved challenging for the last 4 months. Asked by the firm’s Managing partner if I “could help to sort him out”, I had struggled to engage in a change process. Charles was admired by the firm for his talent in winning millions of pounds of fees with new clients. But there had been staff losses and dissension in Charles’s department. Charles had apparently to change his style.

It was clear from the outset of our coaching sessions that Charles had no real intention of changing. My observations were brushed aside. He told me that his colleagues would have to “take him as they found him”. Charles demonstrated all the traits of the ultra alpha male with a few of the more extreme lawyer’s attributes thrown in – highly analytic, intimidating, quick witted, highly (superficially) confident, impatient, opinionated and focusing on flaws in other people and their views.

What’s more, Charles typically didn’t like exploring emotions – “I don’t do emotion –emotions can’t be controlled!”. Yet it was clear that Charles was actually highly emotional in frequently talking about his anger, frustration and – in his very occasional weaker moments – his insecurity.

Charles was eventually persuaded to agree to a 360 feedback session. In typical fashion, he was immediately dismissive of any negative comments. He also spent the first five minutes trying to work out who had been less than glowing in their opinions of him. Here, however was feedback that Charles could not ignore. Here was written data with examples of his behaviour being repeated across his department. There were well argued remarks backed up with facts.- a benefit of 360 work with lawyers is that their written comments are clear and supported by strong evidence.

Gradually, Charles’ curiosity in the feedback was engaged. He began to understand that the strengths that he thought were so important were damaging to his colleagues (and to himself). A common comment was that Charles was a very poor listener – to the extent that many in his department had stopped talking to him – “Charles only listens to respond”, ”I’ve stopped talking to Charles – I am not important enough fro him “ “Charles is only interested in his own clients”.

For the first time in 5 meetings, Charles’ defences were lowered. I turned the screw (a bit). This was an opportunity that might not come again! I suggested a FIRO assessment ( more data/evidence) to help Charles understand his needs for control (high) and openness (low).

Charles thought that he should acknowledge the feedback at his next departmental meeting. “Do you think that is enough?” I asked Charles. “On reflection – no. I will make more time for people. I will tell people that I appreciate them “.

We’ll both see what happens. Will Charles revert to type? The first signs are promising but one 360 appraisal does not lead to a complete personality change. One thing is clear – without a structured approach, Charles would probably never have started to “listen” to his co-workers. Appealing to his curiosity about data was crucial to any breakthrough. Charles may even admit to having emotions soon!

This was a guest post for http://www.bowlandsolutions.com by Nigel McEwen – it was first posted on http://blog.bowlandsolutions.com/blog/bowland-solutions. Formally a managing partner of a top 100 law firm, Nigel is now an executive coach who works with clients in the accountancy, legal, manufacturing and financial services sectors. To contact Nigel, please add a comment to the original post on that blog.
Brendan Walsh

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