The Gouldian Finch, research conducted at Macquarie University in late 2012 has shown, uses just one eye and one side of its brain to choose its partner for life. In the study published in Biology Letters the researchers found that ‘Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visual mate choice lateralization‘. Black-headed males choose black-headed females, and used only their right eyes and left side of their brains to do this.

Here’s looking at you kid, that is, if you are on my right-hand side and are the right colour – the Gouldian Finch chooses its mate by using only  its left brain and right eye. While clients may not do precisely this, we need to recognise they are all individuals, are different and use different criteria to choose our firm or our partners for that next assignment. It is also these individuals who determine the power or otherwise of our brands – Sean Larkan (Image: (c) www.birdsville.net.au)

This provides a timely reminder – we somehow seem to assume that all clients fall into one amorphous group – ‘clients’  – and that all our marketing and approaches to them can be similar and should produce the same results. Of course, this is wrong. Each client is very different. Each individual at every client is different. And it is these individuals who choose our firms or the partners at our firms for their next assignment. It is also what they think, these individuals, that constitutes our firm brands, and the individual personal brands of each of our partners. Some of these individuals are notoriously one-eyed. Others adopt what one may call a balanced approach, taking all factors into account. In each case we need to understand and respect this.

What can we learn from or do as a result of this?

  1. firstly, simply understand and respect their individual differences. Some clients are definitely left-brainers, detail people,  even pernickety (excessively precise and attentive to detail; fussy), want every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed, while others rely on trust and relationships and that you will do the right thing by them and ‘sort out the detail‘ – the ‘just tell me where to sign‘ type. Others are a wonderful balance between these extremes;
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Soft Power leadership may provide a helpful framework of understanding and application for leaders or senior managers of professional service firms (PSF), particularly law firms.

Undertaking a leadership role in a PSF has always presented some unique challenges around power and leadership styles.  The reason is that the traditional sources and trappings of power and authority available to leaders in the corporate world are almost never available to PSF leaders.

The exercise of leadership is also different – even where authority has been granted, it is usually exercised with real care and discrimination. I believe Soft Power is a style of leadership which can play a role here – it relies on influencing others based on one’s set of values, personal attributes and leadership style, rather than traditional bases for power. I think it makes sense for PSFs. If it can be made to work, it affirms you don’t need the normal corporate sources of power to succeed in leadership.

Soft Power – a style of leadership which relies on influencing others based on one's set of values, personal attributes and example rather than traditional bases for power (iPad graphic by Sharon Larkan with thanks to Alan Moir for the idea)

What is Soft Power leadership? Let’s break it down, in reverse order:

  • leadership means leading or going forward, the skill to help a group define and achieve a common purpose. There are various types of leadership, but all have in common a relationship with followers and therefore some form of power over them. Leadership and power are therefore inextricably intertwined.
  • power at a general level is the ability to influence the behaviour of others, to get the outcomes one wants, through the possession of certain capabilities or resources.  You can coerce with threats, induce with payments or attract or co-opt.
  • Soft Power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. It relies on influencing others based on one’s set of values, personal attributes and leadership style. It is about attracting and co-opting. On the other hand hard power typically comes to the fore through authority and coercion, and for countries, through military might and economic power (e.g. USA and China, although China is studying the application of Soft Power principles).

Where did the concept of Soft Power come from?
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