What Makes You A Leader?

What adjectives come to mind when you think of the word “leader”? Passionate? Inspirational? And humble? Some people still hold mistaken thoughts that leaders must be in high-level positions, such as supervisors, partners, government officials etc., but these are not necessarily what defines a leader. Everyone may have their own interpretation of leadership, but our favourite is “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way,” as defined by John C Maxwell.

Partners at law firms do not naturally become leaders upon promotion. Leadership is not something that can be acquired in a day or two. It requires setting clear objectives, and engaging in hard work and perseverance to achieve those objectives. Few people are natural born leaders. Many good leaders have taken years of learning and practicing the attributes of leadership. The following are the pivotal attributes of being a good leader that we think help lawyers to build up their skills.


All great leaders look confident, but none look proud and arrogant. Leaders should always present as confident as people will be seeking advice from them, whenever they encounter challenges. Leaders should be calm and assured in delivering proposed resolutions, it will help encourage team members, and thus enhance overall morale and productivity. It will also gradually help the team to grow in confidence.


Integrity is the most essential attribute in leadership. Leaders should not only praise successful team work, but also influence that team. A person with integrity usually earns people’s respect easily by leading by good, honest example and encouraging trust. Dishonest or two-faced people, on the other hand, will quickly lose the respect of their fellow team members which makes difficult for them to be respected in a leading role.

3.Passion and Enthusiasm

Leaders always display great passion for what they are doing. They should also be enthusiastic about sharing success with others. If you are passionate about your work, your teammates will easily be motivated by your enthusiasm. They will start looking up to you for your opinions at critical situations, which helps to enhance team performance and productivity. If you are not fully committed or if you lack passion for your work, people who work with you will know it and adopt the same mentality.


Besides all other characteristics of leadership, it is difficult to oppose the view that a leader is a representation of innovation. This accords with Steve Job’s mantra, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower.” It is not common to see someone who is stubborn, closed-minded and a leader simultaneously. In law firms, when complex issues arise in an unfamiliar project, partners should always analyse the whole situation and provide guiding solutions. This may require skills beyond those utilised in everyday tasks, on which leaders are required to be innovative to find solutions to the issues.

5.Inspire Others

Another invaluable attribute of leadership is to be able to inspire others. Being inspirational is not equivalent to being persuasive. Lawyers may have good persuasive skills to encourage others to follow their thoughts, yet leaders will inspire others so that they know what they need to accomplish without excessive instructions. Good leaders are can be judged by how they have encouraged others to step up to becoming a leader. Leaders should not only be able to instruct but also able to make their colleagues as successful as they are. The key to leadership is to nurture future leaders by inspiring people, to help them grow into their own leadership roles.    

6.Delegation and Empowerment

It is impossible for a single person to finish everything by himself. Even the most capable partners at the top law firms cannot do everything by themselves. Delegation is important in leadership because it gives your teammates a chance to grow by taking the lead. In a law firm environment, a leader could be a partner or managing partner who is overseeing a team or the operation of business, or even your teammate. However, it is not uncommon nowadays to see that a few are still micro-managing or taking absolute control of the team, even with regards to very trivial matters. Leaders delegating work does not mean that they don’t care at all. They weigh in by giving out support to their teammates when they need help. Delegation will help empower team members and make them take ownership of their work. In the long run, this will help nurture more leaders.

7.Emotional Intelligence

Good leaders always know how to influence others without force. They do it by connecting with people emotionally. That is where emotional intelligence becomes one of the qualities of leadership. Have you ever seen an emotionally combustible leader? Did you recognise a leader who is easily riled and quick to resort to yelling? The answers are probably “NO”.  Leaders usually have high emotional intelligence which helps them to behave rationally and control their emotions. Besides, it is not difficult to see most leaders are very focused and detail-oriented who seem to be knowing and understanding what you think. It is not because they have supernatural powers, but they are sensitive to people’s emotions. It explains why leaders are capable of resolving conflicts.


Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. In other words, putting yourself in somebody’s shoes. It is important for leaders to understand people’s emotional make-up. Partners who manage a firm in dictatorial style and do not display empathy will be hurtful to established internal relationships. Understanding the problems of your teammates and their discomfort is the first step of becoming an effective leader.

Achieving all the characteristics and qualities of leadership may seem a long path to travel for many people, especially in a busy law firm environment. However, it is not impossible. Most leaders are not born with primary leadership skills. They develop such skills by learning and trying throughout their careers. Leadership is not exclusive to partners or managing partners at the firm, it is vested in everyone who wants to make a change in current situations. Leaders can be partners, lawyers, legal and professional support staff, your peers and colleagues at the firm, or yourself!

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Published by Hughes Castell

Asia's Premier Firm for Global Legal, Compliance, Risk and Regulatory Executive Search

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