In the last blog, I reported some of the content from the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Conference last week titled “Harnessing Our Power To Lead.” The topic of leadership in the law profession is very important to me, as evidenced by my new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers. The book emphasizes the importance of developing good leadership skills as senior lawyers and also as junior lawyers. Ultimately, you will be called on to lead, and learning good leadership behaviors sooner rather than later will give you a head start on the group.
Another interesting conference break-out session was “The Art of Self-Promotion: It’s Not Bragging, It’s Building Your Brand.” This, too, is a favorite theme of mine. Earlier this year I moderated a panel on this subject at the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum, and it was a very popular program. There is a fine line between bragging and using your brand to develop work, and it is all about the “art” of good self-promotion.
The NAWL panelists were two women law firm partners and a woman in-house general counsel, and they started out by discussing some myths about women lawyers, including:
- Women lack confidence; and
- Women need to be “fixed” to succeed in the law profession.
I often start my speeches with myths about women lawyers, so I completely identify with this approach. Get the misinformation out of the way so that you can make room for the stuff that is true and very important.
On the topic of women lacking confidence, the panel agreed that women are brutally self honest, sometimes to their detriment, and that it often is misinterpreted as lack of confidence. They cited the same study that I discuss in my new book: When presented with 10 criteria for competence for a work assignment, men will be satisfied if they meet one criterion and take that as an indicator that they are qualified for the task. Women will hardly be satisfied unless they meet at least nine of the criteria. Although honesty is a virtue in most settings, it can be taken too far. Women lawyers must get beyond this impossibly high standard if they are going to be able to compete.
As for women needing “fixing,” the panel agreed that there is nothing to fix. Women lawyers must do what comes natural for them. They should not try to copy others, and they should develop their own styles and brands by focusing on their strengths. As one panelist said, “Do not try to develop muscles that you do not have. Develop those that you do have, and make those assets work for you.”
One of my favorite quotes of the conference came from a law firm partner on this panel. She said, “It is all about enthusiasm and joy.” I love this! Enthusiasm and joy are contagious, and they are very effective methods of self-promotion. To ensure that you combine joy and enthusiasm with good content, the panelists suggested that you have a “buddy” for the purpose of practicing promotion. Practice making pitches and comfortable ways to ask for work with your buddy within that “safe place” before you venture out into the world to do if for real. The audience was reminded that practice makes perfect.
Other salient points included:
- Push the envelope and stretch authentically by identifying your brand. Your comfort zone is usually too conservative, and you need to get beyond it;
- Choose comfortable environments and events to launch your promotional skills. Be intentional and strategic but think of it as just conversations;
- Act, dress and present yourself for the job you want not the one you have; and
- Be true to your brand. Do not let your brand move away from you through pressure from others.
I think you would agree from these examples that the NAWL Conference was terrific. I hope to see you there next year — for your own good!