Ben Kroll was a respected figure in the Birmingham legal community. As an undergraduate, he had led the debate team to a national championship. He was editor in chief of the Law Review at The University of Virginia School of Law, where he went on to graduate magna cum laude.
After his clerkship, Ben returned to Birmingham and joined Alex Reeves as a partner in his solo practice. Both were 32 years old and had aspirations of building a large and diversified law firm.
During the first six years of their partnership, Alex and Ben hired eight young associates, four of whom became members of the firm’s leadership team.
Ben and I had become friends as undergraduates and had followed one another’s career. He was aware of my work with executives and their teams, and had become interested in my insights on developing organizations.
He called one day to explain that he and Alex had been making plans to expand Reeves Kroll to Mobile, Alabama. But the process of strategizing for the future had shed light on some issues in their Birmingham practice.
I asked, “What are the biggest issues that were revealed?” He said that he and Alex had already identified their top three concerns:
- Indecisiveness throughout the firm
- Increasing turnover in support staff
- A ‘me’ mentality instead of a ‘we’ mentality among the firm’s associates
Based on my experience, Reeves Kroll could benefit from better alignment – connecting their purpose to specific objectives, and then determining which actions would achieve those objectives.
A few days later, Ben and Alex invited me to Birmingham for the purpose of guiding their leadership team through the process of alignment.
On the day of my arrival, the six-person leadership team gathered for coaching. I told them my role was to ask great questions that would guide them to the best answers about aligning their team. I wouldn’t attempt to be an “answer man” because they were the ones who knew and understood their organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
I confirmed that over the next two days, we would focus on increasing the success of the leadership team, not the firm. Why? Because the effects of an aligned team would ripple through the whole organization, benefiting every aspect of the firm.
At the conclusion of my time there, Ben and Alex asked if I would return for two to three 1-day sessions to gauge the team’s progress.
I agreed, but with the understanding that prior to my next visit, members of the leadership team would work together on a couple of momentum-building exercises. I believed this would build on what they had discovered during my time with them.
Almost three months later, team members were more clear about:
- The leadership team’s purpose
- The team’s goals for the twelve months ahead
- The quarterly objectives needed to reach those goals
- The next actions to achieve those objectives
They felt more confident because they had discovered their own answers based on the questions I had asked. Also, they had grown in their capacity to lead others and to identify what was and was not working.
* This story summarizes an actual coaching relationship between Dave and a client. The client’s name has been changed for confidentiality purposes.