For the first time, a White Paper has been published that reveals the attributes, qualities, and competencies that every General Counsel should possess. The research was carried out by market-leading executive search consultancy Laurence Simons, a team of experts with more than three decades of industry-leading experience.

Laurence Simons’ bespoke, people-first approach ensures both client and candidate thrive together. Using the Lumina Learning Competency Framework, the next generation of psychometric testing, the White Paper rebuts assumptions around the attributes of General Counsel and reveals how they can play a pivotal role in steering organisations through the current economic storm.

About the research

This unique research involved the participation of 149 General Counsel from the UK, Europe and US who completed Lumina’s questionnaire (a psychometric tool) to identify the competencies they felt were most important to their role. The questionnaire covers 16 Competencies that encompass four Domains: Performing through People; Pioneering; Influence; and Delivery. The data gathered provided a portrait of a respondent’s whole personality to identify traits and competency potential of the GCs sampled.

It is these results that inform the White Paper which examines these traits in detail, and interprets the results to provide analysis of the potential implications for C-Suite executive colleagues, the employer, and the GC themselves.

Angela FloyydAngela Floydd, Laurence Simons’ Chief Commercial Officer behind the research said: “This report has been created to examine the competencies perceived by GCs to be most critical for success. We also identify which of these qualities are innate in most GCs, and those likely to require more effort. The results reflect the versality of the GC profile and close alignment between the skills GCs perceive to be critical qualities for the role and their natural behaviours.

From these results, and our first-hand experience of working with GCs, we can see the significant potential for GCs to help transform companies and their pivotal role in creating a high functioning executive team.”

What are the Competencies of General Counsel?

From the sample of 149 GCs, there were six key competencies (out of 16) that were identified as most essential to the role.

  1. Adapting to change: Possessing a flexible approach and a willingness to evolve in changing work environments.
  2. Conceptualising strategies: Having a broad vision aligned to a keen strategic mind. Being able to detect patterns and shifts in the market, as well as having the capability to plan towards accomplishing long-term goals.
  3. Working under pressure: Being resolute and tenacious when faced with challenges to keep objectives on track.
  4. Providing direction: Being drawn to positions of authority, including delegating and coordinating work to achieve results.
  5. Coaching & developing others: Empowering and encouraging others to develop by motivating and mentoring them.
  6. Being interpersonally astute: Showing an understanding of others, building rapport, and managing emotions effectively.

Unlike other C-suite executives measured by Lumina Learning, there was consistent alignment between the competencies regarded as most important to a GC and those where they showed the highest potential. Essentially meaning that GCs have some naturally ‘hidden’ talents that they recognise in themselves.

GCs see themselves as adaptable, strategic, innovative leaders” explains Angela. “As organisations prepare for the needs of the future, our results also show that GCs have high Agile Learning potential – an important, general leadership attribute for adapting to change and evolving circumstances. What is also striking is that they deem empathy and empowering others as crucial to the role. These qualities, alongside the natural emphasis that a GC’s role has on providing direction, makes for a powerful combination of competencies. If harnessed, they can allow a GC to lead effectively, whilst also fostering an empowering and people-centric environment.”

What competencies do GCs naturally have, that they may not recognise themselves?

Overall, there was a strong alignment between the competencies ranked most important by GCs, and where they demonstrated the most potential. Through Lumina Spark testing, it was uncovered that there were three competencies where GCs showed the highest potential, which was not identified as most critical to their role by GCs but nonetheless reflected key strengths that GCs are likely to bring to the role.

They are:

  • Agile learning – Applying an exploratory and curious approach, underpinned by a willingness to experiment, take risks and try unconventional methods.
  • Fostering creativity – Being imaginative, exploring new ideas, coming up with new ways of solving a problem and driving innovation.
  • Purposeful argumentation – Being persuasive and convincing by projecting confidence when speaking out and being comfortable challenging others.

These traits debunk the idea that General Counsel’s strengths lie merely with corporate governance matters. What’s been revealed by this research is that GCs share many of the characteristics possessed by CEOs.

An ability to lead with both ‘heart’ and ‘head’

GCs scored above average on their ‘Empathetic’ scores and very high in the opposing ‘Logical’ quality, showing that they have the ability to flex and connect with human emotion, whilst balancing this with logic through processes. Similarly, GCs are generally quite competitive, but also highly collaborative, suggesting a strong drive to succeed but through a win-win approach rather than simply self-interest.

The personality profile of a ‘typical’ GC reveals GCs can lead, manage and empower others while having a logical and results-oriented outlook, allowing them to push objectives forward efficiently. They boast an empathetic understanding and collaborative approach which means their decisions are more likely to be people centric.

What do these results mean for business?

It is clear that GCs have an expansive, important role within the C-Suite. Drawing on both their outcome-focused and people-focused competencies, GCs are naturally positioned to help executive colleagues navigate issues and foster constructive communication, making them a powerful asset to any C-Suite. They are capable of driving and guiding the team by highlighting where improvements need to be made in a way that avoids conflict.

In our current turbulent world, leadership in business has never been so important, and it may well be the case that General Counsel is the silver bullet in a business’ arsenal.

laurence simons




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