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Of dinosaurs and dancing elephants 4: Share more to learn more and feel the force

by Chris Marston | April 12, 2023

Part four of a four part article on breaking through to better business performance
by Chris Marston, chief executive of LawNet

As we face up to economic and political turmoil and change, all of which will directly impact our businesses in the months ahead, what can we learn from the experts: how should we drive leadership in this complex world?  

This is the final article in our series, reflecting on the leading-edge thinking outlined by the keynote speakers at our annual conference.  

Concepts alone are of little practical use; we needed practical ways for our members to take action within their firms.  So, each speaker drilled down to demonstrate how we could truly embrace their ideas to build organisational resilience, nurture talent and high-performing teams, and so make the breakthrough to better business performance. 


Step Two encouraged us to bring the mavericks on board.  And step three brings us to another Maverick – the role embodied by Tom Cruise in the Top Gun films. For our speaker Sophie Devonshire, chief executive of the Marketing Society, it’s the pilot not the plane that counts.  ‘Maverick’ the pilot has personal abilities which enable him to achieve performance levels on the flightdeck that are way beyond those of his peers.  In the same way, the success of a firm lies in the agility and energy of its leaders, and the pace they set for those around them.

Sophie argues that as the world speeds up, so leaders must set a pace that ensures they and their teams thrive and are not left behind.  But this is not wholly about speed, as rushing around without clear direction can be negative.  Rather than going nowhere fast, a laser focus on the destination, coupled with an accelerated route is what makes the difference.  

“We can feel overwhelmed by how much there is to be done, the impatience of the world, the always-on nature of business,” she explains.  “Energy is everything in this but doing less can sometimes be a positive.  Think slowly, act fast: the important thing is to move at pace in the right direction, so focus, prioritise, and edit continually.”

And like the fabled tortoise and the hare, Sophie reckons that strategic laziness and silence may be the way to winning the race, giving the example of mega-corporation Amazon starting each board meeting by reading papers in silence for 20 minutes.  Leaders in a superfast world need their brains to be clear and taking time out for silence can contribute to clarity, while looking for the quickest, shortest, fastest route, often the preserve of the so-called ‘lazy’, is generally a good thing.  

Also, Devonshire argues that connections and networks have a vital role to play in stimulating performance: “Building human understanding and using every opportunity to learn and listen from others can be a great accelerator.  When we share, we change things.

“There is a power in not operating alone. Just as IT networks speeds things up, so it is the same for people – networks allow you to borrow brains and be a thinking partner or a challenging critical friend, learning from the mistakes and successes of others.  Together we can always achieve more.”  

While Sophie may have been preaching to the converted, as LawNet members attend our conference for the very purpose of learning, connecting and sharing, it would be short-sighted not to reflect on this message.  From the operational side of the network, our strategy and delivery is always under review, so that we can maximise value for our members in the dynamic future we face. 

Forward motion is a given for us all: with velocity.  Research undertaken by Devonshire, among the so-called unicorns and elephants, found that the one thing upon which they agree is the perceived need for speed, because no matter the sector, disruptive companies like Uber and AirBnb can change expectations for everyone.  

There is no going back.  But with open minds, a willingness to embrace the unexpected and to listen to new ideas, we can keep dancing.   

Hear from Sophie Devonshire and LawNet members in this short video (2 mins)

A longer version of this article was previously published in Solicitors Journal 

Photo: Sophie Devonshire at the 2022 LawNet conference.

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