When I was first coming out of college, I didn’t have a lot of direction. I had decided to forgo graduate school at this point and just start working. The question at that point was…. doing what? The answer to this was the first position I was offered, which was a legal assistant position at a prominent law firm.
I ended up working at the firm for a little over a year – which was longer than many of my peers. We worked a lot. I describe the experience as “the best thing I never want to do again.” It taught me a lot about myself, the world of work, what I liked and didn’t, and eventually set me on a course of heading to graduate school… in something other than law.
It’s now been 15 years since that job and I’ve had several others, and I can honestly say, looking back, that it was unique. The culture of the place, the way things worked, what was accomplished and how – it was all quite a bit different than the organizations that followed.
During my tenure at the law firm there was a saying: “if you heard nothing, you did a great job.” I quickly found this saying to be completely accurate. Case in point: when a partner jotted down a quick note saying, “Andrew did a nice job on this binder” and handed it to my supervising attorney, he kept the note and gave it to me because it was so extraordinary to receive such effusively positive feedback.
Moreover, it was a place where if someone wasn’t performing up to standards, they didn’t address it or let the person go – they just made the person’s life miserable. (For you older Millennials or younger Gen Xers, you may remember this strategy as the one practiced on Milton in Office Space. Not exactly remembered as a portrait of healthy leadership practices.)
This is not to say that my experience is representative of all law firms – certainly office cultures vary no matter what the field. But I couldn’t help but chuckle when I reviewed our new research findings – placing less emphasis on delivering candid and honest feedback was discovered to be a predictor of leadership effectiveness. Apparently, my experience wasn’t unique after all.
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