Greetings from Chicago. Having grown up in Lombard, IL, I always enjoy coming back to visit (even in February).
Enough of my fond memories, let’s get to healthy paranoia.
I remember in 1983 when my friend and partner and I started our own firm. It was at that moment I realized how important it was for me to have healthy paranoia.
I was always just a little worried I would not generate enough revenue to feed my family. So, even when I was incredibly busy I was planting seeds.
If I was busy practicing law right now, unless there was a big trial scheduled I would have no idea what I would be working on six months from now. The thought of showing up for work one day with nothing to do would still scare me enough to continue planting those seeds.
I have coached many lawyers who have shared my healthy paranoia. Let me tell you the story of one of those lawyers. She actually served as the role model for my book Rising Star.
A few years ago I received an email from a young partner I was coaching. She was experiencing the same thing I had felt. She had projects in the works, but her billable hours were lower than normal and that was a source of great stress.
My friend had created a really great business plan, and she was continuing to meet with industry contacts, governmental, consultants as well as a number of clients and potential clients. While her reputation was continuing to grow, it just was not translating into immediate work.
Part of her concern and stress was because she had such a great the previous year, and she feared the firm’s leaders would be disappointed with her. While she felt the leadership would think “long term,” the “associate” in her still worried about meeting and exceeding hourly targets.
My friend ended her email:
We are either moving so fast we fear we might careen off the highway, or we are not moving fast enough and we worry that the 18-wheeler behind us is going to run us over.
I could relate. I had been there. In the past I worried about having enough work for me and my practice group members. I also experienced feeling I was either moving too fast or not fast enough. Her highway analogy was very appropriate.
I told my friend she had what I call “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.
They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them. Because of their worry, they are the first to take action to improve their situation.
What do I mean? I always felt I could become a better lawyer, a more valuable counselor, and a better communicator. I worked at it every day because I loved the feeling I got from making progress.
Great athletes work at it every day. If you have a moment take a look at this New Yorker article from 2014:
Better All the Time How the “performance revolution” came to athletics—and beyond.
When I read the article I was reminded of the managing partner of a large US law firm who said to me:
Client Development Coaching Cordell? What good is it? Lawyers either have it or they don’t.
That was the way we started the coaching program in his firm. Needless to say he was the firm’s biggest skeptic.
In the article the writer describes a change in how athletes view getting better.
Today, in sports, what you are is what you make yourself into. Innate athletic ability matters, but it’s taken to be the base from which you have to ascend.
As a lawyer seeking to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, innate legal and communication ability matters, but it is the base from which your hard work striving to get better helps you ascend.
I have coached lawyers now for 11 years and mentored and coached lawyers in my own firm before that. Many of you who read this blog are one of those lawyers. The joy I had working with you was seeing that healthy paranoia and your great efforts to get better.