Career Choices and the Pandemic #empatheticleadership

At the end of May, I spoke on an ACC Europe panel looking at how the pandemic has changed lawyers’ views of their careers. Here are some interesting findings that came out of the conversation:

  • With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that despite initial worries, lawyers have stayed in high demand. Many felt blessed to be connected to the legal space with the continuous work and ability to keep busy.
  • Over the past decade, the role of the general counsel has steadily increased with the legal function becoming essential to the smooth running of a business. The pandemic has firmly cemented the GCs role at the leadership table.
  • As expected, some companies put the brakes on hiring in Q2 of 2020; however, we’ve seen this turnaround and hiring activity is now at or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. The economy is strong and many hope that this year is one of opportunity.
  • The transition to working from home went smoother than many expected—and WFH is here to stay. Those companies who embrace a hybrid model will see an increased talent pool beyond traditional geographic boundaries.
  • Inevitably business travel will return but on a much-reduced scale. We now have alternatives in abundance, so whilst business critical travel will begin to increase, many general counsel think ‘normal’ travel won’t resume until 2023.
  • Remote hiring and onboarding remain an ongoing challenge; however, it has worked better than many had hoped. The pandemic has also highlighted that hiring the ‘same as yourself’ isn’t useful and never has been. The opening up of geographies has enabled teams to access broader and more diverse talent to their legal teams.

The key takeaway from our discussion is the theme of empathetic leadership. Remote leadership is a skill set many had to hone: looking after the safety and mental well-being of employees by keeping them at home over the past 18 months but also keeping people connected with some sort of social cohesion. There is an awareness that this should be in skill-set armory of GCs who will need to adapt and broaden their leadership styles accordingly. Work-life balance has taken center stage for many, which is challenging the stigma of crazy hours in the law and how we prioritise well-being, progress talent and encourage working smarter not harder.

If anything, the pandemic has increased workloads for many of us and the desire to turn off at the end of the day remains. However, when people put their hands up to say they need something else, we’ve found that the request is more readily heard. Legal managers are more empathetic after 18 months of seeing teams’ home lives. It boils down to company culture, which is driven from the top—and more empathy can only be a good thing. 

 

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