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Harvard Prof Has Some Advice for Lawyers Fearful of Change: Start by Doing the Right Thing Poorly


Harvard business professor Tom DeLong tells of a lawyer who made partner because he had the right skills and know-how. But when the lawyer was expected to bring in business, he became locked into work routines and became “overhead.”

In an article reprinted by the Am Law Daily, the American Lawyer reports on DeLong’s book, Flying Without a Net. DeLong says lawyers like the one in his example find change difficult because of their high achiever personalities.

DeLong explains at the Psychology Today blog. “High-achievers have an exaggerated need to maintain their reputations and to project an aura of capability and control. We’ll do almost anything to avoid looking or feeling stupid, to avoid changing or stepping outside of our comfort zone, and to avoid the horrifying reality that we don’t know everything. These avoidant behaviors are perfectly understandable, but left unchecked they can take us hostage and impede our personal and professional growth.”

In DeLong’s view, people confronting change must recognize that they don’t have all the answers, according to the American Lawyer story. They need feedback and they must be willing to hear it. And they must be willing to change and do the right thing, even if they start out by doing the right thing poorly.

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