The miscues and poorly conceived decisions that led unicorn WeWork to scuttle it's $47b IPO and fire it's revered CEO Adam Neumann were astonishing to watch. Newspapers amped up the drama by painting Mr. Neumann as an out of touch millennial disaster, detached from reality and fully deserving of his comeuppance. All while employees lost billions in stock option grants, and thousands lost their jobs as the company's future headed down the drain.
It's easy to sit in judgement of Mr. Neumann, but dismissing these events as a study in inexperience and unbridled hubris, and not a poor management structure is a mistake. It should come as no surprise that leaders make bad decisions when there is no accountability; it is hardly the first time it has happened. We can all fall into this trap if we find ourselves in a situation where we have no one me must answer to. Wall Street has learned this lesson time and time again, which is the reason the number of CEO's of publicly traded companies who are also chairman has dropped by more than 50% in the past 10 years. Accountability improves performance.
As a founding partner of a law firm you should pay close attention to the WeWork debacle so you can avoid the mistakes that Mr. Neumann made. Start by recognizing that your predicament is the same as his; you have no boss, and your decisions go unquestioned. Your mistakes are always forgiven, which allows you to create a bubble that fosters unchecked thinking and bad decision making.
Knowing this, how can you overcome this challenge? Try these techniques to add accountability to your process; they might help you from becoming the next “WeWork”-
1- Fight mission creep by documenting your goals. Publish a business plan for your firm each year, setting goals for business development, staff additions, operational improvements, marketing activities and other critical outcomes. Use measurable targets and share them with those on your team so that they can assist you in achieving them, and more importantly so that you don’t move the goalpost
2- Find feedback and sounding boards. As the boss there is no one who is tasked with assessing your performance and your decision making; you must seek out feedback. Bring others in on decision making and lean into consensus building. Just because you can flex your muscles doesn’t mean you have to for every decision.
3- Avoid special privileges. If it is important for your firm to get bills out on time to keep cash flow healthy, then you should be the first one to have your bills out. It's the same for all critical responsibilities at your firm; you set the tone and define the ethos of your organization- and it can only be done with actions, not words.
4- Be transparent. Clearly share with your team the decisions you make and the reasons you make them. When you have made a mistake, own up to it. Talking through decisions and the rationale that led to them brings others into your process; it will help to get your team on the same page, and allow them to speak up when they see you making a miscalculation.
You are your own boss; try to be the best boss to yourself that you can be by creating the accountability you need to succeed and stamp out your bad behaviors that would get you fired if you did have a boss. Unless you are going to walk away with $1.7 billion like Adam Neuman did; then it probably doesn't matter.
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org