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The Friday Five

A Lawyer Leader’s Secret Weapon: Emotions

By Paul H. Burton

Don’t fall prey to the notion that people get paid to perform. The reality is that people get paid to show up and do work. How well they perform is largely related to how they feel. It’s true: Emotions play a huge role in performance. Productive legal team managers embrace this fact and use it to achieve the team’s common objectives.

There are a number of behaviors you can exhibit that will enhance your team’s performance. Here are five.

1. Remember, attitude is contagious. Lots of things go wrong. Many of those problems are not of your making. Still, you have two choices whenever you have to deal with something that’s gone wrong. You can attack it with vigor or complain about it. A report in the Journal of Applied Psychology offered evidence that a manager’s attitude is infectious. If a manager addresses a situation with a positive attitude, the team rises to the occasion more successfully. Similarly, if the manager is negative, that negativity spreads like wildfire throughout the team. Thus, choosing a positive attitude when dealing with problems — that is, attacking them with vigor — has upsides and no downsides.

2. Mirror others. When you align your behaviors to those around you, you’re mirroring. If they speak quickly, you speak quickly. If someone is quieter by nature, then you quiet down a bit. We all feel more comfortable with those who are like us. Use mirroring to create a collaborative environment when working with others.

3. Use humor. Finding moments of humor throughout the day is a terrific way to bond with others. Laughter is often called the elixir of society, and for good reason. Our brains release the feel-good chemical dopamine into our systems every time we laugh!

4. Stay calm. We all want leaders to appear calm. It makes us feel safer. Even if you’re feeling chaotic inside, exhibiting a calm demeanor to your team will help them remain focused and productive.

5. Go green. Consider going outside, especially to someplace green (like a park), when things are frantic. Even a short stroll in fresh air, under open sky, can calm us down and get us focused again. Maybe the entire team could brainstorm solutions while walking outside together.

Identifying and understanding the personalities on your team helps you guide each individual to a successful working attitude. You can also improve performance by adopting some specific behaviors, like the above, to help you and your people get the work done well. 

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Paul H. Burton

Paul Burton is a former corporate finance attorney and General Counsel who helps lawyers and legal professionals make the best use of their time. The author of eight guides on individual and leadership productivity, he delivers seminars and coaching services to busy professionals across the United States. You can learn more about Paul and his practice at

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