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Given that the lawyer who leads with the Affirming Style has one foot in the “I” dimension and the other in the “S” dimension, which are both people-oriented domains, this leader is easy to recognize due to their warm, positive and empathetic manner.

In fact, being in a firm run by an Affirming Leader is a pretty good place to be. Lawyers who lead with this style readily show appreciation for their staff members and enthusiastically acknowledge their contributions – two habits that are in short supply in many law firms. As practice advisors we often advise our attorneys to pay much more positive attention to staff who feel they only hear when something goes wrong — never when something goes right. When these attorneys find themselves surrounded by a team with low morale they have to force themselves to say uplifting things to team members. Those with the Affirming Leadership style need no coaching in this area: it’s one of their gifts.

It makes sense that potential clients will also be attracted to lawyers who operate with this behavioral profile. These lawyers don’t come across as remote or arrogant like their more results-focused colleagues; instead they’re very approachable. Because of the naturally empathetic way these attorneys present themselves, potential clients feel cared for and understood right from the first meeting. The sincerity and warmth of these attorneys goes a long way to making them a very appealing option in their marketplace.

So what’s the downside of all this friendliness? On the surface, the Affirming Leader sounds like the ideal attorney to have if you’re a client — and a terrific boss if you’re on their legal team. Unfortunately, with the majority of their attention focused on relationships, the Affirming Leader may fall short when it comes to getting results.

In fact, the attorneys we have worked with who fall into this category excel at creating a fun and friendly workplace, but tend to hold back when it comes to pushing the team to produce results. Even the best teams require nudging when deadlines approach, but this boss doesn’t want to be seen as demanding. So they’ll sacrifice results in favor of maintaining relationships.

This choice can manifest in several problematic ways: the Affirming Leader can be so effusive with their team members that the team gets overly comfortable and doesn’t go the extra mile. Why should they? With the Affirming Leader as a boss, they receive abundant acknowledgement for average behavior. So the team settles in, enjoys their friendly workplace, but isn’t motivated to perform at high levels. In this case, the Affirming Leader – operating with all the best intentions — has inadvertently created a team of loyal under-performers.

Or the Affirming Leader may find that one of their team members, for any number of reasons, has become toxic and is negatively impacting the rest of the team. In a situation like this, team members typically turn to the firm leadership to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, the attorney who leads with the Affirming Style prefers to preserve a sense of relatedness with everyone on the team and will avoid confrontation with the toxic team member – until the situation becomes completely untenable, or resolves itself (the employee leaves on their own). When firm leadership does not intervene in a timely manner, the team will silently decide that a double-standard applies. One for the person who’s toxic but suffers no consequences and one for the rest of them. A team that comes to this conclusion and is frustrated by the lack of intervention will reduce the amount of respect they have for their leader. They may conclude that their boss is lovable, but lacks a spine. And worse yet, they’ll reduce their own level of performance, asking themselves why they’re working so hard when their toxic team member gets away with such bad behavior. The Affirming Leader’s habit of avoiding confrontation once again creates a group of loyal, but under-performing, team members.


Atticus, Inc.

This article was written by an Atticus staff member.

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