The Word of Gold: winning work is about confidence, but all can do it, and should be encouraged to try

“I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” So said Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The law is full of men and women who are cleverer than most. But as I pointed out last month, unlike Dumbledore, they dread being thought of as less than perfect.

There is a direct link between lawyers’ fear of failure and their general ineptitude at selling themselves. Their client work is arduous. There are difficult problems to solve, deadlines to meet, expectations to manage. But at least they feel (most of the time) that they know what they’re doing, and are operating on familiar terrain. Clients respect their expertise, and they have a degree of control over events.

Pitching removes that control. Fickle creatures as they are, clients can move potential suppliers up or down their agenda as they see fit, like or dislike them at their whim, accept or reject their proposals for good, bad or no reason. However charismatic, focused and determined a rainmaker one may be, getting a bloody nose from time to time is inevitable. This is not good news for the reserved, risk-averse perfectionist. How best to deal with it?

Nurturing confidence

The root of the issue is confidence, and to firm leaders falls the task of creating a culture in which it can flourish.

A healthy firm makes it explicit that:

  • Everyone has an obligation to put their heads above the parapet and be involved in winning work, not just doing it. “No time”, “No need”, or “I’m no good at this”, are unacceptable excuses.
  • People who make an exceptional contribution to sales and marketing will receive commensurate recognition and reward.
  • However, not winning a piece of work despite one’s best efforts will never be classified as “failure”. Not all sales and marketing efforts will be successful. Where they do not bring a win, they will be learned from and built on to make the firm more compelling to its markets.
  • On the other hand, not trying will be glowered upon.
  • Billing is not the be-all and end-all. Developing relationships and creating opportunities takes time, much of which will not be chargeable. The firm will grant that time, and also sufficient resources (while expecting them to be thoughtfully spent).
  • On the subject of time, the golden rule is that unless you are very lucky, from spotting the target to hitting it takes at least twice as long as you expect. The firm will understand this and not pile on unreasonable pressure.
  • Winning work is a skill of at least equal worth and difficulty to doing it. Accordingly, the firm will invest in training and personal development to help create confident, knowledgeable rainmakers. All are expected to participate.
  • It is inevitable that a lot of activity will be outside normal office hours (whatever they are), and while colleagues are expected to take this on the chin, the firm will give all possible support.
  • The firm’s most successful business developers may not be one-eyed megalomaniacs, as is often the case, but mentor colleagues, recognising that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Team strengths

Good leaders can create the culture in which confidence thrives, but ultimately, building it is our personal responsibility. “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are,” said Marilyn Monroe, and while she might not be the best role model for living a great life, she had a point.

Begin by reminding yourself that you are doing something of real value. People need your skills. You have the ability to make their lives better and more successful. Not everyone can say this.

Do not make the mistake of believing that there is a particular personality type for rainmaking. Successful business developers come in all shapes and sizes. Be thoughtful about playing to your strengths and addressing weaknesses.

Do not try to do this on your own. Business development is a team sport. Volunteer to be involved. Just as in football, players who are great at providing assists are prized almost as much as strikers. Supporting a team effort successfully is one of the best confidence boosters there is. It provides the chance to observe and learn, and the colleagues you help will be well disposed to helping you in return. Seek out people who are willing to mentor you and share their wisdom. Not all will (see above, under “one-eyed megalomaniacs”), but they will be there.

Ultimately, “Practise, practise, practise” is not only the best, but the only route to the skills which create confidence. Practising means you will fall sometimes. But never forget that if your amazing proposal is turned down, nobody dies. Time to reflect, learn, and move on, confidently, to higher ground.



The Author
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. t: 07968 484232; w:;  twitter: @theworldofgold
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