Catherine Leach of Leach Legal On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

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Catherine Leach of Leach Legal On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Maintain Focus on Long-Term Goals: Even amidst uncertainty, it’s crucial not to lose sight of your long-term goals. For instance, our commitment to being a leading family law firm has always guided our decisions, regardless of the circumstances. This long-term perspective helps provide direction and keeps the team motivated and focused, even during turbulent times. We have one year, three year and 10 year goals which we share with the team and we all know what we need to do to keep rowing in the right direction.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Leach.

Catherine Leach is an experienced family lawyer and entrepreneur, recognized for her commitment to ensuring business owners retain their businesses post-separation.

Catherine founded Leach Legal in 2004, growing it into the largest family law firm in her region and subsequently a national powerhouse. Her expertise extends far beyond the courtroom, as she is currently the Governance Director for the Asia Pacific Region on the Regional Council of the Entrepreneur’s Organization, where she employs her vast leadership and management experience.

As CEO of Leach Legal, she continuously displays adeptness in navigating challenging landscapes and making complex decisions, qualities that have firmly cemented her reputation as a trailblazer and thought leader in her field. Her relentless dedication to the intersection of family law, entrepreneurship, and leadership has made her an invaluable resource for those facing legal and professional turbulence.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Growing up on a farm, I developed a strong work ethic and a close connection to the land and community. Initially, I explored various academic fields, including psychology and English teaching, but it was the legal profession that ultimately ignited my passion. Within a few short years of being admitted, I became a partner in a law firm.

The entrepreneurial spirit took hold nearly two decades ago when I launched my own firm — at the same time I had a one year old and was pregnant with my second son. That year we also bought a house and moved suburbs.

Starting with just two people, I have nurtured and grown Leach Legal into a leading family law firm of 35 dedicated professionals, spanning two major cities — the product of countless hours, strategic decisions, and unwavering commitment to our clients and our mission.

Travel has always been a passion of mine, providing a welcome counterbalance to my intense professional life. The diverse cultures, perspectives, and experiences I encounter on my journeys not only enrich my personal life but also broaden my professional outlook. These adventures serve as a constant reminder that my story isn’t just about building a successful law firm; it’s about living a rich, full life guided by passion, curiosity, and an unwavering commitment to making a difference.

I have been very fortunate to have a supportive husband, who has spent the last 20 years caring for our children and supporting me and the business. The “juggle” has been difficult at times but it was made much easier with his full time support.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my funniest moments happened when I hired a lawyer over the phone, sight unseen, and she flew in from another country to start work. I took her to Court on the first day to acclimatize her. I remember this moment vividly — we were at court, going through the routine security screening. I breezed through first, turned around, and was absolutely flabbergasted to see the security screen displaying a gun in her handbag. A thousand thoughts rushed through my head. Had I unknowingly hired an international criminal? Was this some kind of hidden-camera prank show? Just when I was about to hyperventilate, the security guard smiled at me, informing me that it was a fake image they used periodically to ensure the screeners were paying attention. I remember the wave of relief washing over me.

The incident taught me to not jump to conclusions too quickly. It underscored the importance of staying calm in the face of unexpected situations and waiting for the whole picture to unfold before making judgments or decisions. This experience, while humorous in retrospect, has significantly shaped my approach to problem-solving and decision-making, reminding me to always take a step back, assess the situation fully, and maintain a sense of humor even in the most surprising circumstances.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Indeed, no one achieves success in a vacuum. I am particularly grateful to one of my first employers, who taught me a principle that I’ve carried with me throughout my career: always return to the legislation, the indisputable source of truth. He insisted on the importance of gathering all the facts early on and urged me to make decisions based purely on facts, not opinions. His emphasis on fact-based decision-making and original sources became the bedrock of my legal philosophy and continues to guide my approach. His wisdom transcends the years and remains as relevant today as it was when I was just starting out. I frequently pass on his advice to my team of lawyers at Leach Legal, demonstrating its timeless value.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When I started Leach Legal, my vision was, at its core, simple yet powerful: I wanted to create a welcoming, safe, and enjoyable place to work. Coming from a male-dominated business and experiencing a tumultuous partnership dissolution, I yearned for a workspace that valued respect, support, and collaboration. Furthermore, as a new mother with another child on the way, it was vital for me to establish a firm that could accommodate not just my growing family, but also my burgeoning career. I firmly believed in the importance of balance, that a successful business didn’t have to come at the cost of personal happiness or family life. I envisioned a company that would foster personal growth alongside professional advancement, and I’m proud to say that this purpose-driven approach has remained a cornerstone of our culture at Leach Legal, contributing significantly to our success and positive work environment.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 the situation was evolving rapidly, and it was clear that we had to adapt quickly to keep our team safe. Before any mandates were in place, and certainly before most businesses in our city had shifted operations, I made the decision on a Sunday to move our entire team to remote work.

By Wednesday, half of our team was set up and working from home. By Friday, the entire team was operational remotely. It was an intense period, filled with uncertainty and fear, but I believe that taking this swift and decisive action gave our team a sense of security. I wanted them to know, above all else, that their well-being was our top priority, and that we, as a firm, were capable of adjusting to this new reality.

Seeing our firm adapt and continue to serve our clients effectively, even in such unprecedented circumstances, underscored the resilience and agility of our team. In retrospect, this experience demonstrated that early, decisive action, guided by a focus on the well-being of our team and clients, can instill confidence and resilience during the most uncertain times.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Throughout my journey, especially during the challenging early days of establishing my own firm and when facing unforeseen hurdles such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there were undoubtedly times of immense strain. But giving up was never a real consideration for me. My original motivation — to create a safe, enjoyable, and family-accommodating workplace — kept me rooted and moving forward. The lessons from my past, such as always returning to the source of truth, enabled me to stay focused and not get swayed by temporary roadblocks.

My passion for the law, and my dedication to the clients who trusted us with their futures, fueled my persistence and my commitment to providing a supportive, nurturing environment for my team became an essential motivator. Seeing our collective effort translate into a thriving, national family law firm is incredibly rewarding. It’s the realization of the vision I had when I first started: a balance between a fulfilling career and a rich family life. This balance, and the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives, continues to sustain my drive.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Books definitely have the profound ability to shift our perspectives and inspire growth. The book that has greatly impacted my leadership style is “Wooden on Leadership” by John Wooden. His wisdom resonated with me deeply, especially his mantra to “always assume adversity.”

This principle encouraged me to approach every situation, particularly challenges, with a realistic and prepared mindset.

When we decided to expand Leach Legal to a new city, rather than expecting immediate success, I embraced Wooden’s philosophy and assumed adversity. I knew that establishing a presence in a new market would not be an easy or quick process. There were inevitable hurdles, from navigating local regulations to building relationships and trust within the community. However, assuming adversity from the outset meant that I was prepared for these challenges.

Rather than being disheartened when faced with obstacles, I viewed them as part of the process and used them as opportunities to learn, adapt, and grow. Wooden’s perspective on adversity has been instrumental in my leadership approach and has been particularly useful during times of expansion and change, offering both resilience and a roadmap for success.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Based on my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I believe the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to provide clear, decisive direction while ensuring the well-being of their team.

I think that equally important to quick decision-making is the ability to maintain calm and offer empathetic support. People look to leaders for reassurance in the face of adversity, so it’s crucial to remain composed and provide a supportive environment for your team. Ultimately, a leader’s role in difficult times is to guide their team through uncertainty with decisiveness and empathy, maintaining a focus on their team’s well-being while navigating towards the best possible outcome.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In times of uncertainty, I believe the best way to boost morale is to lead with empathy and transparency. Leaders should clearly communicate the challenges at hand, while also conveying a vision for navigating through them. It’s about striking a balance between realism and optimism, acknowledging the difficulties while also reinforcing the team’s ability to overcome them.

Another powerful motivator is to maintain a focus on the organization’s purpose, even amidst upheaval. Reminding your team of the mission that drives your work can provide a sense of stability and motivation. For me, maintaining our commitment to providing a supportive and family-friendly work environment was key to engaging and motivating our team during challenging times. When the future is uncertain, a leader can inspire their team by demonstrating empathy, offering clear guidance, and keeping the team’s shared purpose at the forefront.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Communicating difficult news is one of the most challenging tasks a leader can face.

Last year my CFO of 10 years died suddenly and in tragic circumstances.

From that experience, I realized that the best approach is to be transparent, empathetic, and timely. It’s important to share news as soon as it’s appropriate, to prevent misinformation or rumors from spreading.

When you deliver the news, be straightforward and honest. Avoid sugarcoating the information or obscuring the truth. Your team and customers will appreciate your honesty, even if the news is difficult to hear.

Empathy is equally important. Show understanding for how this news might impact your team or customers. Acknowledge their feelings and provide support where you can. This might involve explaining any steps your company is taking to mitigate the issue or detailing any resources available to help them cope.

Finally, make sure to provide an opportunity for dialogue. Allow for questions, feedback, and concerns. This two-way communication can help ensure that everyone fully understands the situation, and it can make your team and customers feel heard and valued, which is particularly important in challenging times.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The key lies in embracing flexibility and building resilience into your strategies. It’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty, rather than attempting to create plans based on assumptions or wishful thinking. Go with the facts.

Creating flexible plans that can adapt to changing circumstances is crucial. This might involve developing multiple scenarios and contingency plans, which can help prepare your organization for various potential outcomes. It’s about having the ability to pivot quickly and effectively when needed.

To achieve this it’s essential to stay informed and continually reassess the situation. Regularly review your plans in light of new information or changes in circumstances. This will allow you to adjust your strategies as needed and respond proactively to change.

Finally, remember that while the future is unpredictable, your organization’s purpose and values should remain constant. Use these as your guiding principles when making plans. Even in the face of uncertainty, your purpose and values can provide a sense of direction and stability.

In my experience, embracing these strategies can equip a leader to effectively plan for the future, even in the most unpredictable circumstances.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

If I were to single out one guiding principle for navigating turbulent times, it would be this: Always prioritize the well-being of your people. Whether it’s your team or your clients, people should be at the heart of every decision you make.

This principle served as my compass during the tumultuous onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s one I advocate in any situation.

In turbulent times, it’s easy for businesses to get lost in financial worries or strategic conundrums. But at the end of the day, a business is its people, and if they don’t feel safe, valued, and supported, other elements of the business will inevitably suffer. Prioritizing people doesn’t just mean physical safety or job security, it extends to mental well-being, work-life balance, and opportunities for growth and learning.

During ups and downs, remind yourself of who you’re ultimately doing it all for: your team, your clients, your community. If their well-being is your guiding principle, you’re more likely to make decisions that not only help weather the storm but also build a stronger, more resilient and dedicated team, and a more loyal and appreciative client base.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Reflecting on my own experiences and observing other businesses during challenging times, several common mistakes stand out.

First, I’ve seen businesses delay action when faced with a crisis. It’s crucial to act decisively and swiftly in difficult times, as I learned during the COVID-19 pandemic when I moved our operations to remote working ahead of mandates.

Second, I’ve noticed a tendency for businesses to focus primarily on their bottom line during crises, sometimes at the expense of their employees’ well-being, however, I believe that prioritizing your team’s well-being is essential, even during tough times. Their dedication, innovation, and resilience will ultimately fuel your business’s survival and growth.

Third, during challenging times, some businesses forget the importance of open and clear communication. Whether it’s difficult news or changes to operations, it’s vital to keep your team and customers informed and to create space for dialogue.

Lastly, some businesses make the mistake of becoming rigid in their plans and strategies. Given the unpredictability of crises, flexibility is key. It’s important to build adaptable strategies and remain open to changing course as needed.

To avoid these mistakes, it’s crucial to act promptly, prioritize your people, communicate effectively, and maintain flexibility in your planning. These principles will guide businesses to navigate turbulent times effectively.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Embrace Change and Innovation: During uncertain times, traditional methods may no longer be effective. Leaders should be open to new ideas and encourage innovation. Post COVID there are different expectations in different cities for working arrangements. With the skills shortage we cannot be complacent and rely upon the way it has always been. We must be open to a new way of doing things and flexible to try new things.

Ensure Psychological Safety: I have always valued and encouraged open communication within our firm. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss new processes and proposals and everyone’s input is accepted and considered. It can be uncomfortable sometimes to have people disagree with you, but it is healthier to have it on the table than to have it fester and for good people to leave when they feel unheard.

Invest in Building Resilience: Turbulent times are stressful, but they also offer opportunities to grow and strengthen your team’s resilience. Providing resources, such as stress management workshops or mental health support, can help your team navigate challenging periods. In our firm, we have always prioritized the well-being of our team, offering support and resources to help manage the stresses that inevitably come with our line of work. We have Coffee Club groups where they meet monthly to discuss in a confidential setting anything that is going on in their lives. It allows the team to air issues they might not be comfortable openly talking about.

Maintain Focus on Long-Term Goals: Even amidst uncertainty, it’s crucial not to lose sight of your long-term goals. For instance, our commitment to being a leading family law firm has always guided our decisions, regardless of the circumstances. This long-term perspective helps provide direction and keeps the team motivated and focused, even during turbulent times. We have one year, three year and 10 year goals which we share with the team and we all know what we need to do to keep rowing in the right direction.

Practice Empathy: Last but not least, empathetic leadership is crucial during challenging periods. Leaders should strive to understand and address the worries and concerns of their team and clients. For example, during the early days of the pandemic, our prompt decision to move to a remote working setup was driven not just by business considerations, but also by a genuine concern for the health and well-being of our team. It was also very challenging after the death of our CFO to balance my personal feelings with the requirement to lead with empathy but it was important to be clear and focused, even when it was very difficult.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Peter Drucker: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” This quote aligns well with the insights discussed, emphasizing the importance of not only navigating the logistical aspects of crises efficiently but also making decisions rooted in empathy and prioritizing the well-being of your team.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I post regularly to LinkedIn —

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Catherine Leach of Leach Legal On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.