The interplay between likability and success has been debated since Machiavelli's "The Prince" hit the printing presses. He famously pondered the question "whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved?" His answer to male politicians (then and now): "It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved."
Women have not fared so well with this advice. First, Machiavelli didn't write "The Princess," and second, we have all heard the successful women are bitches stereotype. Over and over. A recent article in New York Magazine examined how a successful and well-liked woman -- Jenna Lyons, President and Creative Director of J.Crew -- has managed to walk that fine and ever-shifting line. That inspired us to wonder about what we "lady" lawyers can do to strike a balance.
Why should we have to trade likability for success? Why can't we have both? Here are a few things to consider.
No one likes someone who comes across as trying to hard (just ask Anne Hathaway). Instead, strive to be genuine and don't fake the funk. If you don't care how someone's day is, don't ask. People can tell when you are being authentic -- just be polite and do the right thing.
When giving feedback, be honest, not overly critical. If there are improvements that need to be made, or if someone messes up, work together to come to a good resolution. It's a win-win; you look like a great senior associate, and the junior associate reporting to you isn't afraid to make mistakes (or of you). Give feedback to junior associates the way you wished your senior partner gave you feedback.
Leading by example is a great way to not only set expectations, but also show how you expect work to be done. This sounds obvious, but nearly all of you have been in a situation where this was not the case. If you expect other associates to be on call over the weekend, then you should be too. If you expect a certain number of billable hours in a day, then you should be billing that amount as well.
There's no getting around this. No matter how authentic, honest or likable you are, you're going to have to put your time in make those billables and do great work. No shortcuts.
Ultimately, you'll want to strike a balance between your emotions, and the ability to care for the people you manage, with strength of mind and conviction. Clearly the guys have to do this too, but it seems like they might get a bit more leeway. In the end however, any lawyer that cares for the people that report to her, and guides them in a way that is constructive, rather than destructive, will be well on their way to being like Jenna Lyons.
And really, who doesn't want to be like her?
These are just a few suggestions about a tough topic. Got others? Tweet us @FindLawLP. Related Resources:
- Best Law Firms for Women: What Are They Doing Right? (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- Five Lessons for New Attorneys from Helen Thomas (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- Clifford Chance's Sexist Memo Was 'Unintentional.' So There. (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)