Leading from the top

Much has been written about how CEOs set the culture of the companies they lead. There are some great (and not so great) examples in Australian companies. There are some pretty obvious examples of not-so-great CEOs. Better examples include ANZ’s John McFarlane, Brambles’ David Turner and IAG’s Mike Hawker, among others

By Craig Donaldson

Much has been written about how CEOs set the culture of the companies they lead. There are some great (and not so great) examples in Australian companies.

I recently attended the 300th issue party of our sister publication Lawyers Weekly. I met Don Boyd, the chief executive partner of Deacons there, and was impressed by the cut of his gib.

As you’ve probably read before and as some of you have probably experienced, the culture of law firms often leave a lot to be desired. It seems the most dysfunctional of management behaviours usually comes out in law firms –usually the big ones – for some reason. And that reason is leadership (or lack of it).

While some partners in such firms may think that they can treat any employee like dirt, it will come back to bite them eventually. For example, such law firms are already having trouble retaining talented young lawyers who won’t put up with such nonsense from partners.

That’s why I was impressed with Don. I’ve met a lot of lawyers and a fair few managing partners. As far as they go, Don was intelligent, remarkably level-headed and refreshingly down to earth. He’s been a lawyer for decades, and worked his way to the top. It’s at this position that he sets the example for the rest of the firm, both formally and informally. I know a number of lawyers who have joined Deacons over the years, and, all things given, they like the culture of the place.

So, even in a tough profession such as law, it is possible to be human at the top and still have the respect of your staff. While some old school managers may still rule through the chain of command, skill shortages, changes in generational attitudes and the ageing of the working population will have a dramatic effect upon how companies manage their people. Otherwise, they simply won’t be able to recruit and retain people. And this will happen, regardless of whether old school managers like it or not.

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