Ron Shaich was CEO of Panera Bread for over 26 years. He’s now retired, but he shared a lesson he wants all leaders to know in a recent Entrepreneur article. Looking back over his long, successful career in a publicly held company, he has one big regret: that he didn’t fire more people.
Ron’s error, he says, was following the servant leadership model. This is a management style where leaders are focused on serving team members and building a family within a company. While there are some good things to be said for servant leadership, it ceases to be effective when serving individuals blurs your vision for serving (and growing) your business.
I know law firm partners who subscribe to servant leadership. They invest a lot of time in mentoring associates. A lawyer who’s not cutting it at their firm is given extra attention instead of the heave-ho. And while that may be good for the underperformer, it’s bad for business.
In today’s hyper-competitive legal marketplace, there is no place for underachievers. While you should give your people the tools they need to succeed, you should not waste your valuable time and your client’s money by catering to employees who won’t, don’t or never will contribute to the success of your law firm. As a leader, your job is to fire anyone who isn’t producing outstanding work for your firm.
As Ron so succinctly puts it,
“A leader’s responsibility is not to make a person succeed. A leader’s responsibility is to create a direction for the organization and share with their team the opportunity of what they all can be. A leader provides the space to perform. After that, each employee owns their career and chooses their path.”
If you want to be a servant leader, be one to your clients. Nothing makes me prouder than when one of my clients compliments our staff. It means I have done my job in finding and developing the best talent possible to serve their needs. Having outstanding people at your firm is what creates long-lasting relationships with clients and provides you with great referral sources.
Firing those who don’t fit into your firm’s growth strategy is the kindest thing you can do for your star performers, your clients, and ultimately, your bottom line.