Bryan Schwartz, former Managing Partner of Levenfeld Pearlstein was featured in Value Drivers 3-part 'Leaders with Courage' publication series. Based on interviews with 30 CEOs, Being A Leader With Courage: How To Succeed In Your C-level Position In 18 Months Or Less by Lee Eisenstaedt will help anyone currently in the C-Suite or aspiring to move up in an organization. The motivation for conducting the interviews was the author's interest in understanding why, for the past 20 years, 40%-50% of executives fail, quit, or are pushed out during the first 18 months in a new position.
Value Drivers: You opened your firm with the aspiration of it being successful without you. Not many people think of themselves being out of the picture of their own business from Day 1, do they?
Bryan Schwartz: No. They probably don't. I always wanted to build a law firm where I actually wouldn't be needed anymore because it was important to me to have the legacy of having built something. Most leaders make the mistake of saying, "people are measuring my success every day." Yes, that's true. But the real question is: Can you create the next generation of leaders and build something that survives you? Can your firm last without you? That's leadership.
So when I co-founded LP with Bob Goldstein in 1999, we made sure to have a very good succession plan. Bob and I started off as co-managing partners. Within a year, I was the chairman of the firm and had that title until 2013, when we implemented the succession plan. My successor took over, nobody left the firm and there was unity around the next leader. The firm has actually been very successful since I stepped down as chairman and will continue to be that way going forward.
Did you start your career by getting experience in a larger firm first and then move on to small firms from there?
No, actually I was in smaller firms but I was never a really good fit. For example, I couldn't figure out why six partners had to meet for three hours to talk about which copy machine to buy. Very few things of that nature ever made sense to me. As part of my transition into becoming a co-managing partner, I parted ways with one of my mentors, which was extraordinarily tough. Frankly, when you're 36 years old and something like that happens, you're at a place in your life where you're not quite fully a mature as a man, you're trying to figure out what a leader does and your not sure what your real identity is. This kind of thinking at the time inspired me to visit a psychiatrist to learn about myself as a leader.
You seem to have created the purposeful culture at Levenfeld Pearlstein. But how did you change behaviors in people who have been brought up in the old system of thinking and doing things?
Well, among other things, I had a very in-your-face recruiting campaign that made fun of the large firms. My partners were cringing and thought I was crazy for that approach, but I believed in what I wanted to create I saw such a market for a differentiated firm with different people to buy into it. To me, the analysis of personality for culture fit was huge and still is.
I also think getting the right people in the room to arrive at the solution is tremendously important for professional service firms. You may have geniuses and professional argues, but you may not have the greatest business minds. I don't say that to be hurtful, but rather I recognition that some people are not geared for that side of the equation. They may not know how to build value for the firm, for the brand and for the legacy.
Beyond that personal journey you took of self-discovery, what else have you learned about your qualities as a leader since that time?
I continue to learn that you have to know yourself - and your limitations - better in order to be better leader if you want to make change. That takes courage and humility. For instance, I was at an event with several hundred people in attendance when the speaker asked, "how many people in this room think they're high-level leader?" I saw about 600 hands go up in the room. The speaker then asked, "how many of you don't think you're that kind of leader right now?" Me and just a few other people put their hand up.
The speaker Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and Built to Last, then remarked that, in all likelihood, the small number of us who raised our hands were the actual leaders in the room. Which surprised me considering so many people in the room were very driven, Type A personalities. But the truth is, unless you think you always have something to learn, you're not a good leader. I'm wary of anyone who thinks they know it all because that's when you can really get into trouble.
If there's a Leader With Courage a who embodies being Champion of the Culture, one of the key attributes every leader must have , Bryan Schwartz fits the bill perfectly. He set the standards at Levenfeld Pearlstein and has lived by them ever since. He challenged the status quo from day 1 and he's able to spot trends and threats without following every market or management fad.
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