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Please Step Forward: Claiming Your Place as a Leader

Please Step Forward: Claiming Your Place as a Leader

There are born leaders and there are those that emerge through experience or as a product of circumstance. However it manifests, purposeful leadership paves the way for what is to come. It both asks and answers the question, “what’s next?” Leaders provide the framework that ensures individuals, teams and companies move forward with purpose and progress in mind. As providers of a service or product, our companies’ relevance depends largely on a leader’s ability to adapt along with their consumer markets. Progress can be swiftly undermined when leaders lack the ability or willingness to listen and adapt. To evolve alongside our clients and continue to prove our utility, we should consider the business case for leadership with the same level of importance as other market predictions.

A Case for Change

I was several years into my business when I first sensed that I needed to modify my role within my own company. Until then, the verb that defined my career was “do,” but I was ready to build. Hard work had taken me far, but when I was honest with myself about the future, I realized I wanted ideas to fuel our company’s trajectory, not just the work itself. It was time to evolve. And yet, time was a finite commodity. I felt a shift in where and how I needed to focus my efforts, but it came with the realization that I would need to transform my daily work life to create the time and space I would need to fully cultivate my ideas.

This was also an emotional phase of the leadership evolution. For so long, I had carried the weight of this business alone. Clients had depended on me to handle their work and answer their calls. My name was on the door. Now, that weight was shifting and I had to give myself some time to grasp the value my new role would play in the continued success of the company.

Choosing to lead doesn’t come with a map, but there are guides to help you find your way. I leaned heavily on trusted resources to fill in the gaps between my decision to lead and actually leading. I had candid conversations with my contemporaries, successful business owners, wise mentors and a trusted business coach about the challenges, logistics and possibilities. With their counsel and my growing confidence in the path ahead, I made deliberate changes in my work life that would help create an environment where sustainable leadership could take hold and flourish.

Letting Go

Embracing this new role was as much of an undoing as it is a becoming. Some of the habits that had served me so well as I was building my business were now at odds with my decision to lead my company. At the core of it all was how I spent my time. I had new responsibilities, but the same number of hours in a day, so over the following months I:

  • revealed my plan to my team which included what my expectations were for myself, my fears and how they could help
  • loosened my grip on how things should be done, freeing up others to operate at their best and highest use, with my guidance if needed
  • came to not just accept, but to appreciate that our company is truly the sum of many parts, all of which are critical to our professional ecosystem
  • realized I could not and did not want to get “there” on my own or without the input of many
  • began delegating based on the team’s strengths
  • started asking more questions to lead our team to an answer instead of “fixing” everything myself, which doesn’t foster individual development
  • made time each day to think and considered it a critical piece of my job (still do)
  • scaled back my daily output and looked to my team to step in

No one said this work would be easy, but few worthwhile initiatives are. It’s a continued practice that requires candor, patience and serious trust on the part of everyone involved. Even seasoned leaders need a team they can depend on.

Risk and Reward

It is humbling to willingly walk into change and embrace the certain discomfort. Choosing to lead will test your limits and your fortitude, but remaining the same could prove even more difficult. Either option is a risk, but your professional evolution it at stake. My new role has heightened my tolerance for original thought, effecting change, and stirring up productive trouble. Now I can enjoy the view of what’s ahead, and I know I won’t have to do it alone.


Jennifer Scalzi, founder of J. Johnson Executive Search (JJES), has spent the last 17 years inside of, and as a consultant to, law firms. Her mission is to connect people, ideas and information to position our law firm clients at the forefront of the next era of the legal industry.

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