Senior Vice President, Compliance Testing &
Program Management, LPL Financial
Q: What are three keys to your professional success:
A: 1. Be curious, and channel your curiosity – The world is changing more quickly than ever before, and it is changing business and work at the same time. Your clients are fighting off industry disruptors every day, and are pushing their businesses to become industry disruptors. Our continued move towards digital-everything increases operational change, and the change in our social structures introduce new workforce dynamics.
The skills you have today are likely not good enough to help your clients solve the problems they will face tomorrow. Push yourself to continue to develop new skills. Create a development plan to create accountability for yourself to progress—consider what you want to do with your career, identify the areas where you want or need to develop skills to reach those career goals, create an action plan to develop those skills, and then track your progress.
In my experience, lawyers are skeptical of the need for this kind of effort, but I would encourage you to think about this from the perspective of your clients. Your in-house clients cannot be narrowly focused on legal issues if they want to excel. They need to navigate their company’s “Agile transformation,” know how to set meaningful “OKRs,” and prepare their workforce for a future that is heavy in analytics (to name just a few trends in major companies right now). Prepare yourself to engage with your clients on those topics. This will come with at least two auxiliary benefits: 1) it will open up new avenues of opportunity in your career, and 2) if you are doing it right (see my next point), it will also enrich your life and energize you.
2. Pay attention to what you pay attention to – I used to believe that the key to my success was that I could out-grind almost anybody. Then I had kids, and I realized I could barely work a full week, and also be the dad and husband I want to be. Part of my problem was that I was so focused on career achievement, I rarely thought about the emotional impact of my work on me. That emotional toll became more clear to me as I became increasingly impatient at home. Meanwhile, I became increasingly frustrated with myself because I was not working as much or as effectively as I did before kids.
I have since realized that not all work is created equal. I have had short days that were incredibly taxing, and other days where I woke up at 3 am to sneak in a few extra hours before Saturday morning pancakes because I was so excited to explore a project. This has helped me to realize that being energized by work is possible. Whereas I use to view being “passionate” about work as a fluffy millennial pipe dream, I now see it as a competitive advantage. If you can find work you genuinely enjoy, you can outwork and outperform anybody, and the energy you get from work can enable you to be the person you want to be in other parts of your life.
3. Be authentic – The workplace is a lot more relational than I realized early in my career. Many of us exercise some degree of choice over who we work with, and how we interact with them. Not surprisingly, we choose to work more with people with whom we enjoy working, and we tend to enjoy working with people who are open, genuine, and generous with their time and ideas.
So be yourself, recognize your peers and colleagues when they help you, ask for help when you need it, and never turn down an opportunity to be of service to others. If you marry generosity of spirit with the keen intellect you display every day, you will blow people away.
Q: What suggestions do you have for an in-house attorney looking to better engage his or her client and become a more integrated, trusted advisor?
A: Focus more on becoming “trusted,” and less on becoming an “advisor.” Many of us think about becoming a “trusted advisor” as a business skill. As a result, we tend to think about enhancing this skill by producing a better business product—we focus on becoming a more insightful, analytical, or clever “advisor” than anybody else.
The reality is, though, that it is very difficult to differentiate advice. If I am going out into the marketplace, I assume that it is generally going to be fairly easy for me to find good advice. It is much more challenging for me to go into the marketplace and find an advisor whom I trust. Trustworthiness is much more difficult to establish. I can look at a resume, and get a good idea whether someone is likely to be able to provide me with competent advice. There is no comparable reference point for trustworthiness. Rather, trust is built over time, and often through interactions that are not directly related to business. I tend to trust people who are generous with their time and ideas, even when I have little to offer them in return; who show curiosity about my goals and interests; and demonstrate a desire to help me achieve those goals. It is counterintuitive (to me, at least), but you will do more for establishing yourself as my trusted advisor by trading text messages with me about NBA basketball (Neil Bloomfield) or showing interest in how I am weathering the pandemic then you ever will with the thoroughness of a legal opinion.
For anyone still reading, there are two pieces of good news if you think about the “trusted advisor” relationship in this way. First, this makes the objective of becoming a “trusted advisor” susceptible to skill-building and development planning. You can develop a plan to educate yourself on what influences trust building (see, e.g., some of the work of Frances Frei, Brene Brown, or Amy Edmondson). You can also design exercises to practice and measure how effectively you build trusting relationships. Second, viewing the “trusted advisor” relationship in this way also sets you up to have more satisfying work relationships because it sets you on a course to be more authentic, more open, and more generous at work.
Q: Are you hiring?
A: I am always hiring, even when I am not hiring. I like to see smart people who are taking on work that is interesting and exciting to them. The more of that we have in the world, the better. Also, every time I do have an open role, I find it frustratingly difficult to find people who can marry together intellect with passion. To that end, I love knowing when people are looking for something new, and understanding what is driving them to look. Even when I do not have something open, I often have friends and colleagues with open roles, and I enjoy playing the matchmaker. If you are ever looking for something new, or you want to have a more general conversation about your career, you should feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Just know before you reach out that I am going to force you to answer (with help) the difficult questions that all of us struggle to answer (and often avoid) in career transitions (like, “what do you want out of your life, and where does your career fit into that plan”). I hope to hear from you.