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One of a Kind

A Growth Mindset, Paired With Daily Deliberate Practice, Is Key to Lawyers’ Business Development Success

By Jay Harrington

A growth mindset, paired with daily deliberate business development activity, is the lead domino for your long-term success.

growth mindset

The fundamental difference between a lawyer who is satisfied and thriving and another who is dissatisfied and struggling is a growth mindset. There are few, if any, areas in which mindset makes a bigger difference than business development.

A lawyer who succeeds at business development — an activity that involves lots of failures — typically has learned to enjoy the process itself. She embraces the challenges of building a practice, isn’t deterred by rejection, and consistently puts the work in to get better. A lawyer who struggles tends to fixate on failures, doesn’t feel in control of his circumstances, and blames externalities for poor outcomes.

In other words, lawyers who succeed over the long term approach business development with a “growth mindset” and not a “fixed mindset.”

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

The distinction between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset comes from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who synthesized her research in “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” In “Mindset,” Dweck dives into the power of our beliefs and explains that how we think about the possibility of change can have a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.

Someone who holds a “fixed mindset” believes their character, intelligence and creative ability are static and immutable and that they have little control over outcomes in their life as a result. To contextualize this concept for our purposes, lawyers with fixed mindsets who are not currently successful at business development do not believe they can become rainmakers in the future.

A lawyer with a growth mindset is motivated by challenges and sees failure as an opportunity to get better through trial and error.

Lawyers with fixed mindsets look at successful lawyers in their firms and are daunted and discouraged by the gap between where they perceive themselves to be and where successful lawyers already are.

Lawyers with growth mindsets acknowledge the gap between where they are and where they want to go, but rather than being discouraged by it, they’re motivated to get better. They know the qualities and characteristics that made other lawyers successful at business development can be cultivated through hard work and discipline. They do not become disheartened by their shortcomings. They don’t perceive them as shortcomings — to them, they’re opportunities for learning and growth.

Cultivating a growth mindset requires patience and a long-term perspective.

While patience is required, passivity is not. Practice is required if you want to grow. And the type of practice you engage in matters greatly. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to get better.

Practice to Build a Practice

“Deliberate practice,” a term popularized by Florida State University professor K. Anders Ericsson, is purposeful, systematic and requires focused attention. It’s conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. It’s work that stretches you beyond your current abilities.

If you’re engaged in deliberate practice in the context of business development, it means you’re immersed in your work.

Lawyers who incorporate the principles of deliberate practice into their business development efforts create a plan for cultivating new clients, work intensely on the plan, and then seek feedback from others on their performance. They continually improve their performance because they continually push the boundaries of their comfort zones.

For them, what was hard 12 months ago — such as delivering a presentation or writing a thought-leadership article — becomes routine. Deliberately practicing business development allows them to grapple with the next set of challenges with the confidence that they’ll figure it out.

You’re likely feeling the weight of stress and uncertainty more than ever. It’s tough to be a lawyer under any circumstances. The job involves learning to dance with uncertainty. It’s nothing more than grappling with tough problems, and it never stops. As you advance, you level up to bigger problems and greater consequences. COVID-19 has accelerated and exacerbated the challenges.

It’s only with deliberate practice — thoughtful and consistent action — that you’ll learn to navigate challenges more effectively and come out stronger on the other side.

This is the time to dig in and not give up. There is new business to be had, but you need to actively pursue it.

There is likely a gap between who you are and who you want to become. The way to bridge this gap is to develop the skillset and mindset necessary to succeed. Muscles only grow after they are broken down by strenuous exercise. Your mind works that way, too.

If you want to build a practice, start placing yourself under stress to force yourself to grow.

Push yourself to the limit of what you think you’re capable of and then push harder. This rigor is what’s required to have a growth mindset, and a growth mindset is required to become a successful lawyer. From honing your lawyering skills to prospecting for new clients, now is the time to grow into your potential.

Growth Mindset: Pivot to a Bright Future

The Productivity Pivot - Growth Mindset - by Jay Harrington
Now available.

In my new book, “The Productivity Pivot,” I argue that if you want more control over your circumstances, you must pivot from a belief that business development is something to “fit in” when you find the time. Instead, you must start treating it as your most important priority. After all, you’ll never “find” the time for business development. Instead, you must ruthlessly prioritize the time necessary to focus on building a practice, with the understanding that it’s the most valuable investment you can make in your most important client: yourself.

You need to develop a tactical plan for daily action.

There’s no short-term “hack” that will solve the business development productivity problem. Building a practice requires long-term strategic thinking and action. You can’t rely on willpower alone to become more productive. You must tie your productivity to a higher purpose. That starts with getting clear about your long-term vision for your career and then breaking that vision down into goals and a tactical plan for daily action. Here’s how:

  1. Cast a vision. Success starts with getting clear on what you want, way out in the future, so you can know what steps are required, starting today, to get you there. Without a clear vision, you’re likely to drift through your days focusing on other people’s priorities.
  2. Set a goal. A big vision for the future must be reduced to a series of achievable goals. A goal should not merely be an intention, but rather a commitment to uncompromisingly pursue your most desired professional outcome. A clear goal allows you to affirm your vision and establish systems that guide your day-to-day actions.
  3. Deconstruct your goal into an actionable plan. Making progress on long-term objectives is all about deconstructing your goals into specific, short-term action steps. Work backward to understand the components of your long-term goals, then establish a series of smaller goals. This, in turn, enables you to create a plan for daily action that will keep you on track. You should deconstruct your big goal to the point where you have a clear understanding of the appropriate action you should be taking today — at this very moment — to be on the right path.
  4. Sell yourself one hour every day. In “The Productivity Pivot” I challenge lawyers to do something you may believe is impossible, or at best improbable: Devote one hour each workday to business development activities — to deliberately practice each day. The reason lawyers resist this idea of spending what is, for most, merely 10% of their time each day on business development is that they view the pursuit of billable hours in the service of clients as their highest calling; the key to their long-term success. But that is short-term thinking. Instead of selling all of your most valuable time to clients to help them achieve their objectives, start selling yourself one hour of your time every day to achieve your own.

A bright, autonomous future awaits you — if you embrace the idea that a growth mindset, manifested through daily business development activity, is the lead domino for your long-term success.

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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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