" ... humans are wired to conform and be part of the group." - Shirley S. Wang, "The Science of Standing Out," The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2014 (not yet online).
Lawyers tend to conform. And that could be what leads them to underachievement or even failure. Wang hammers that those who know how to strategically deviate from norms get noticed. Consequently they frequently obtain more access to more goodies. Iconoclast Steve Jobs had that staging down to a science.
More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be playing the role of the strategic non-conformist. Through it he could acquire more power than most conventional leaders, who play by the rules, have. Meanwhile. along the way, he sure is receiving tremendous media attention. The influence from that in itself can augment his power.
What can lawyers learn from Putin's standing out? Here are just some observations.
A little risk-taking often is more productive than industrial-strength conformity. That probably would be a trait lawyers have to learn. Most hang with practicing law in traditional ways rather than putting together an enterprise like LegalZoom. That's because they don't have an entrepreneurial mindset. They tend to search for precedent rather than attempt to create something from nothing.
In his moves, Putin is betting the ranch. It may not work. But, also it may. Equally important, he seems to be enjoying the game. Too many lawyers are unhappy in their game.
How to learn risk-taking? Take a risk. See what happens. If consequences are negative, figure out why. Apply that insight to another risk. If consquences are positive, do more of what's panning out.
Rebuild confidence. Law school strips away a lot of things, including confidence. The practice of law, with all its complexities, ensures that confidence will not be regained. Overbearing superiors further reinforce that the associate is an idiot.
Putin exhibits confidence to the extreme that it's comical. However, that enables him to make a plan and then execute that plan. For years lawyers have been talking about developing new models for their law firms. Not much action on that. Instead there's yet another Reinvent Law conference in places like New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Confident professionals are decisive professionals.
Don't fear looking foolish. In his iconic Stanford Commencement speech Jobs told the graduates to not only stay hungry but also foolish. He hit a nerve and the speech resonated for years. Incidentally, when Jobs didn't get his way he would burst into tears. Talk about appearing foolish.
Somehow almost everyone but Putin got the message to avoid at all costs appearing ridiculous. Lawyers who don't care about possibly being mocked will likely never be afraid of anything again.
Love yourself. Putin's narcissism works for him. But even a small dose of self-love would go a long way to help lawyers be less self-destructive, e.g. "borrowing" from client funds. In 12-step programs, lawyers usually keep relapsing until they can be convinced they are worthy of love, including their own.
As the Putin world show continues into its next act, there could be myriad other lessons, both positive and negative, lawyers could be learning.