Kate McGuinness is back to answer a question from a lawyer who is having a great deal of difficulty dealing with a very critical partner in the law firm. Kate is an attorney-turned certified executive and life transition coach, and the founder of Counselor Coaching You can read more about Kate in her 7 Questions … interview. Welcome back, Kate!
Attorney: I’m dealing with a very critical partner at work, and I’m losing patience. He’s constantly belittling me in front of clients and co-counsel and thinks everything I do is wrong. It’s not really feasible to work for other people right now. Do you have any tips for coping?
Kate McGuinness: Here are some suggestions to help you both cope with this difficult situation and benefit from it.
- Understand the partner’s drivers. What are his hot buttons? Identify them and focus your efforts on making sure the tasks he cares about most are done well. Is he a typo nazi? Proof your work twice. Is he rabid about punctuality? Arrive early. Does he hate interruptions? Collect your questions and concerns and schedule a time to put all of them in front of him at once.
- Create a document trail. After getting oral instructions, write an email confirming your understanding of your assignment as well as the tasks he’s agreed to undertake.
- Anticipate what he will need and stay ahead of him. Arrange for conference rooms, catering, late night support and anything else he might require.
- Identify his weaknesses so you can support him better. Yes, I said support him better. You may be tempted to undercut him but that doesn’t help anyone in the long run. Organizations value team players. If you can make him look better, he’ll appreciate it and maybe even give you some credit.
- Avoid the temptation to spread tales of his mistreatment inside the firm. Complaining constantly to your peers may feel like a relief valve but repeating your woes only reinforces your unhappiness. Complaining to his peers deprives you of a team player merit badge and invites questions about the validity of his criticisms.
- Look for his redeeming traits. Challenge yourself to find at least one thing he does well and admire it.
- Ask yourself which, if any, of his criticisms are valid. This may be hard to do when you’re feeling besieged, but no one is perfect. Success in this job or any other will depend on your ability to accept and own your mistakes.
- Unless you identify an error that you have actually made, don’t take his criticism personally. Your boss’s unhappiness is most likely due to a personal or professional situation for which you have no responsibility — maybe he was born under a sullen star! Whatever the source of his bad temper, don’t let it undermine your self-esteem.
- Appreciate the lessons you’re learning. By adopting these suggestions, you’ll begin to acquire a key business skill: “managing up” or handling your relationship with a superior in a way that benefits both of you and your organization. (This works with difficult clients, too.) You’re also gaining valuable leadership insights. You’re learning how not to manage subordinates.
- Leave your sense of being abused on your doorstep when you go home. Don’t let your frustration pollute your time with your family.
By asking for coping tips, you’ve demonstrated the determination and resilience necessary to prevail. I have every confidence that you will.
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Kate McGuinness joined O’Melveny & Myers on graduating from law school and after seven years in the trenches became a partner. She left to become the Vice President and General Counsel of The Times Mirror Corporation, then a Fortune 250 company.
After her stint in the C Suite, she studied creative writing. Her legal thriller Terminal Ambition, A Maggie Mahoney Novel is set in a BigLaw firm and explores power plays sparked by one partner’s attempt to stop widespread sexual harassment. Kate’s essays about women’s issues are carried by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Women’s Media Center, Role/Reboot and other publications. Her advice column “Kate’s Counsel” appears in The Girl’s Guide to Law School.
Kate’s latest career is coaching, and she graduated from The Hudson Institute as a certified executive and life transition coach. Read more about Kate on her website.
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