Where Are Your Markers?
Re-evaluating how you mark your success can make you a more effective leader.
Re-evaluating how you mark your success can make you a more effective leader.
“Where are your markers?” is a delightful play on words that will get you thinking and maybe even making a few powerful changes. The world has certainly changed since March 2020. As a legal management professional, having little or no control over much of anything is not your normal mode of operation. There’s stress, frustration and even numbness in response to what’s going on. But what if there were a way for you to regain control and stop feeling like you’ve involuntarily entered your washer’s spin cycle? That’s where this course will get you started — it may be just the perspective shift needed during these times and all others.
CLM® Application Credit: Self-Management Skills
CLM® Recertification Credit: Communications and Organizational Management
As kids, we lived in a land of make-believe filled with crayons, markers and made-up realities. Markers could record a world sometimes only we could see or imagine, and no one taught us our world wasn’t just as we believed.
Maybe you chased those dreams, and your role in the incredible legal profession is filled with joy, fulfillment and glitter. But the rest of us only use our markers to fill in the blanks when we’re asked what success means. Somewhere from childhood to adulthood, markers go from coloring our world to being used to determine our success. We may still use markers, but they no longer create a colorful new reality or answers to big life questions. Instead, they tell us where we should be. In our youth, markers were just colored pens. Now, markers convey a different meaning — they are milestones of success. They show us and others whether we’ve made it. The challenge is that where we put them seems to determine our happiness.
Where we put our markers affects our view of our position, maybe even our chosen profession, our business (if we have one), our leadership, our relationships and, yes, our progress. And that was well before the entire world went on lockdown, client flow slowed considerably and Zooming in one’s pajamas became the only viable option for connection.
The world has changed quite dramatically, but our markers have changed only slightly. Most of us are merely in a holding pattern while we wait for “things to get back to normal.” What if, instead of waiting for something outside ourselves to alter, we took a moment to consider if what we used to see as successful still meets those standards or expectations? Perhaps we can use this time to consider if our markers are still the primary tool to determine when — and if — we can give ourselves permission to be pleased and happy with our progress.
If you find yourself having rigid measurements for where you are in life or work, chances are you’ve located your markers. Success will be reached when there are X dollars in the bank or when the degree is complete. Success will arrive when Dad tells me he’s proud of how I run my business. Success will be mine when all debts are paid in full or when we have doubled profit instead of just making it. When everyone on the team gets along and respects my leadership. When we live in this neighborhood and get that kind of car.
No matter the marker, these examples tend to measure our progress toward happiness. Are we there yet? If not, happiness waits until that happens. But in reality, happiness doesn’t wait for anyone. Life moves on; so does your interest in pursuing what you once thought would produce the happy feelings — unless you lead your actions and attitude around those markers a bit differently. For the sake of your office, your firm, your partners and the morale of the team you have the privilege of leading, take a healthy look at what your key markers are and where you have them positioned. Which ones need to stay? And which ones need close examination, because you have finally realized that they are of no help to anyone?
In the spring of 2020, the world seemed to have lost its forward momentum. Agreements made were no longer kept, contracts written were simply ignored or forgiven, and progress came to a halt. Those who value the marker of progress suddenly found themselves facing an identity crisis. When you value this marker, everything’s current status is not enough and good enough doesn’t exist. The current number of clients or a beautiful office location doesn’t matter; it’s all about what’s next and what could be coming down the pipeline.
If you’re always focused on what’s next, your clients will sense it by the way you talk to them. The team you lead is part slighted, part ready to give up, part feeling not good enough and part wondering if they’ll ever measure up. Leaders often hold the teams they manage to a similar standard to which they hold themselves, but this marker doesn’t write well on most human surfaces.
So how can you tell this is your marker of choice? It’s likely you’re unable to be present and grateful for what you have. Your decisions often have you asking “Am I good enough?” and your answer will rarely be yes. You probably don’t accept or receive compliments well. If this is your marker, nothing will ever seem to be good enough to outsiders. For example: the employee grateful for the news of last year’s bonus, who then gets an earful about the state of your first-quarter targets, may begin to question your credibility.
Ambition and progress build practices; being reasonable about the speed of progress breeds reasonable, reachable expectations and confidence in your entire workforce. Both are to be considered before giving your team and clients the impression that not only is your office not yet up to speed, but that you’re looking at them thinking the same thing. Is all that progress really the only thing you’ve got going?
These markers are about the accumulation of shiny things, name-brand objects or anything that screams to the world that you’ve made it. But the marker of status can rapidly ruin a team’s morale. If you’re measuring success based on material things, chances are good there is distance between you and team members — not to mention a risk of outspending the revenue coming into your wallet or office.
The marker of status isn’t just about pursuing the best of the best. It rests more on the belief that without such external objects to “ooh” and “ahh” over, no one would pay much attention to the person who bought them. Blending in or feeling left out are risks those with an affinity for the marker of status are unwilling to take. In leadership, this marker will cause you to make the safe decisions. That means you may very well miss some of the most golden opportunities to excel or rise to the occasion for which you may not yet have the skills or knowledge required.
Strange as it may seem, the desire to appear of highest status — to believe success has been achieved — will set you apart from those you lead (unless your whole team uses this as a marker, too). It may widen the chasm between “us and them” and cripple your ability to see what those you lead need, particularly if your eyes are more focused on buying yourself more things.
Remember the phrase “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”? If you claim you must acquire status before you have value, then the marker of status is what’s keeping you from being an effective leader. And not just of your team, but of you and frankly, anyone else in your presence.
Tied to ambition and overlapping with the marker of status, the ardent pursuit of profit can create different problems. If the only metric of whether you’ve made it starts with a dollar sign, people may miss so many other factors that could be considered successful.
Profit-based markers that are unrealistic can result in not giving the team access to adequate resources, and they can breed real resentment. Spending less can result in more profit, but it can also prevent you from providing competitive salaries. Staying in search of success only measured by monetary means can also remove your ability to see people’s needs.
If furloughs or layoffs are done in the pursuit of merely boosting the bottom line instead of as a last, difficult option, you’re relying on the marker of profit at work. Perhaps spending on a team event is what will create much-needed synergy. But arguing over the cost of one-ply toilet paper versus the staff’s preferred two-ply because you’re overzealous about expenditures (true story!) is not going to do anything to build morale. Focusing solely on a singular marker like profit is not an accurate way to determine happiness or an effective way to stay in touch with the happiness you experience or convey to employees.
Bigger than an ambitious streak, the marker of power gives new meaning to valuing a title or position. It doesn’t have to be official, like office administrator or partner, but it has to provide power over something or someone. Sometimes it’s those who feel slighted by their parents or compared to a sibling who end up seeking power through approval or attention. There is a need to continuously prove prowess or ability or being better than the sibling (or whatever you are using for the comparison). But it’s a losing battle that will leave you constantly reaching for the unattainable.
In leadership, people who value the marker of power and the marker of progress behave similarly. Where they differ is when someone consistently seeks a position that others warn them to avoid, that is an ardent pursuit of the marker of power. The title has more value than their interest in the responsibilities of the actual position. Perceived power over others can be addictive, yet every pursuit of this nature originates in a reasonably deep-seated lack of belief in one’s own value.
Markers represent where we think we need to be before we can be happy — in leadership, in life, in managing a legal office, in leading a family. Much has been written about the choices we make to be happy. But these markers can still persist and make us resist the simplest of feelings.
If you can stand still and still be happy, those you lead will follow your example — not by standing still but by ironically becoming more motivated. There’s less fear, less stress and less that brings them down or freezes them in the face of distracting activity. Think of this analogy: As children, we imagined and assumed that what we drew or made up was our reality. As adults, we measure reality based on what we see, forsaking what we imagine, often believing it will just never be. We forget to just be happy. Instead, we keep our eye on the marker — that is, where we think we should be — and don’t focus on how far we’ve come and what we’re building.
With children, misplace one marker and some kids won’t notice. Misplace their favorite color? That can be a disaster. How emotionally attached are you to the markers you choose? Society may of course weigh in, giving guidance on which markers of success to choose. But the only one who gets to decide what markers mean in terms of success and satisfaction with your choices is you. Maybe we actually knew more as children — we could draw clearer pictures of what we really desired, instead of all the things we now believe we require before those things can happen. But we still have the imagination and child-like drawing skills, and as adults we have access to even better markers and crayons. Enjoy drawing your own conclusion.
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