The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Ever felt like managing your law firm is like herding Banthas on Tatooine?  And sometimes you’re the biggest bantha (sick burn, I know).  

My wife often does not understand how I just set my mind to do something and then do it (I am mostly an upholder) and it wasn’t until I read Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies that I was able to put words to this in the right way to write a newsletter about it.

Consider this your lightsaber to cut through the chaos, your flux capacitor to get back to the exact right moment, your something something light based power to something something evil Kree (at the time of writing this, I haven’t seen the Marvels yet)! 

So let's explore these tendencies and dive into how you can help hold yourself, your team, and your clients accountable and therefore get the outcomes that you’ve always known you wanted, but just haven’t been able to achieve.

1. Upholders: The Captain Americas of Your Firm 🛡️

  • Characteristics: Like Steve Rogers, Upholders meet both internal and external expectations. They're self-motivated and reliable.  This is me most of the time.
  • For You:  Congrats!  Just take the time to set out a plan (DO WE HAVE A NEWSLETTER ON OUR MARKETING PLAN) and then honor the plan.  You probably don’t need a TON of follow up/accountability/skin in the game.  If you’re going to spend money for help on this, spend the money on hiring experts to make sure you have the BEST plan.
  • In the Firm: Set clear expectations and deadlines. Upholders thrive with rules and schedules (think of Captain's disciplined routine).  Let people know what you expect from them and WHEN you expect it.  Then give feedback (privately) when things do not meet expectations and praise (publicly) when they do.
  • Client Management: Provide them with detailed plans and regular updates. They appreciate knowing exactly what's expected and when.  I would go so far as to assume that EVERY one of our ideal clients are upholders.  I may be wrong, but just imagine if your clients did everything you asked them to do without much nagging or follow up…whoa!

2. Questioners: The Bruce Banners Analyzing Every Detail 🧠

  • Characteristics: Questioners question (duh) all expectations; they’ll meet them if they make sense. They're all about efficiency and rationale.  In essence, one the questions are answered correctly, the person KNOWS they have to do this thing and will actually do it.  I think MOST lawyers are this (and this would be my second tendency or I lean this way from being an upholder).
  • For You: ASK THOSE QUESTIONS!  Make sure you get the right answers.  Then (and only then) will you be truly committed to doing the thing you think you need to do.  Questioners benefit from hiring experts to pick their brain and answer their questions (or show them that it’s possible).  This is what I hear from a lot of my coaching clients, I am walking the walk I tell them, so they know to trust what I am saying.
  • In the Firm: Be ready to explain the 'why' behind tasks and decisions (like Banner questioning Stark’s tech logic). They excel when they understand the purpose.  Honestly, this might sound annoying, but it’s SO invaluable.  You never know what question someone will have and answering it might make you rethink the whole idea (which proves the questioner right, but still…better to decide not to do it now then waste the time/money/energy to realize it later).
  • Client Management: Provide data and evidence to back up your strategies and recommendations. They need to understand the rationale to commit.  This might be telling them that your PI settlements average a 30% increase if they fill out a pain journal, or letting them chat with prior clients about the experience, or explaining to them that the last client who didn’t follow your advice ended up getting arrested again.

3. Obligers: The Clark Kents, Meeting External Demands 🌆

  • Characteristics: Obligers meet external obligations but struggle with self-imposed tasks. Think of Clark Kent's commitment to helping others.  These are the people who martyr themselves for others and then feel guilty for taking a second for themselves.  And yes, that sounds like a lot of lawyers I know too.
  • For You: you CANNOT pour from an empty cup, you CANNOT do the best work if you're burned out, you HAVE to say no to other people sometimes (or yes to yourself).  If you struggle to get things done, find an accountability buddy, make a public commitment to something, make that promise to the client that you will get the work done by a certain time, hire someone who will bother you about this thing until you do it.  You have the most options here but again, you need to be a BIT more selfish with yourself or you’re going to burn out and not be able to help anyone.
  • In the Firm: These people might be the backbone of your firm.  Set external accountability for these team members.  Oftentimes that is just the commitment they made to the rest of the team to do their part of the case.  Regular check-ins and external deadlines help them stay on track, but seriously…this is the most common person and can be the easiest to work with when they care enough to make the commitment.
  • Client Management: Regular reminders and follow-ups are key. Help them stay on track with their legal responsibilities and deadlines.  Explain to them how what you need from them will help your team/their case/etc.

4. Rebels: The Tony Starks, Marching to Their Own Beat 🚀

  • Characteristics: Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They value freedom and authenticity (Tony Stark, anyone?).  I know this one might SOUND like me (the freedom and authenticity part).  But honestly, I don’t see how to get there except for doing the things I know I need to do.
  • For You:  God Bless.  I have no idea.  Honestly, this is something I am struggling with in terms of how I can help rebels with coaching.  At some point I think a higher price point puts more skin in the game and might work for some.  But really a rebel will do whatever they want to do, and if you tell them otherwise they might just do the opposite out of spite.  Really you just have to convince yourself that everything is your choice and you choose to do what you are doing.
  • In the Firm:  That being said, they can be great employees.  You just have to give them autonomy. Frame tasks as a challenge or a choice. They excel when they feel in control of their actions.  This might be the ideal person for a larger project or a difficult client when you can give them full ownership of it without needing anyone else.
  • Client Management: Give them options and emphasize how your services align with their values and desires. They like to feel they’re making their own choices.  That being said, rebels PROBABLY make the worst clients.  So…I will not fault you if you try to weed them out by having some organized procedures and rejecting people who don’t want to follow them.

(title) What EVERYONE has in Common

Here’s the thing we can all agree upon - we like doing things when we want to do them.  

Whether that is through the commitment to do it, getting the right answers about why we should do it, liking who we are doing it for, or just because we decided to do it, that want is helpful.

We tend to WANT to do the things that we enjoy doing and that we are good at doing.

We tend to get good at things by doing similar things over and over again (but not the exact same thing as that is repetitive and boring).

So as the firm owner try to work backwards through that concept and THEN apply the four tendencies correct to the person (including yourself).

THAT’s how you can run a law firm that you can be proud of while living a life that’s even better.


Until next week, May the Four Tendencies be with you!

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