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7 Questions on Leadership with Friso van Deursen

Name: Friso van Deursen

Title: Owner

Organisation: TheOnlineCoachforLawyers

Beginning my career as a lawyer at one of the international law firms, my interest quickly pivoted from the legal specifics to understanding what truly motivated our clients. This curiosity led me into the realm of headhunting in 2000, marking the start of my coaching journey as I assumed the role of headhunter for senior lawyers at a leading firm. There, I not only matched legal talents with opportunities but also began to cultivate my skills as a coach, guiding senior lawyers in their career paths.

As a co-owner of this leading firm for several years, I deepened my expertise in career coaching alongside my headhunting responsibilities. My passion for coaching and business development for law firms led me to step down and establish myself as an independent coach and business development advisor. This chapter was succeeded by over five years as a co-owner at another premier search and consulting firm, focusing on senior lawyers and legal organizations, where I continued to refine my coaching practice.

For the past three years, I have been living in various countries with my family, fully embracing the role of an independent online coach for senior lawyers. This move has allowed me to leverage technology to support legal professionals globally, continuing my two-decade-long commitment to coaching since my initial transition to headhunting in 2000.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Friso's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Transitioning from a senior employee to a co-owner has been my most challenging leadership experience. This shift changed how peers view me, now expect guidance and decision-making that affects our business's direction. Balancing camaraderie with the authority of my new role, while ensuring clear communication and trust, has been key to navigating these new dynamics effectively.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I became a leader by embracing the willingness to take risks, maintaining a steadfast focus on the needs and satisfaction of our clients, and prioritizing the well-being of my colleagues. This journey began with recognizing the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue innovative solutions and opportunities that were not only beneficial for business growth but also for the personal and professional development of the team. My leadership style has been shaped by the belief that a successful organization thrives on the happiness and health of its people and the quality of service provided to its clients. By fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and supported, we were able to achieve remarkable results together. This approach has guided me through various leadership roles, each time reinforcing the idea that genuine care for people and client satisfaction, is a powerful formula for creating lasting impact and driving success.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My workdays are structured around a balance of productivity and personal well-being, starting at 5:30 AM. The day begins with a refreshing glass of fresh lemon juice, followed by walking the dog, which not only gets me moving but also brings a moment of peace before the day ramps up. After the walk, I exercise to energize my body and mind for the tasks ahead.

Next, I make breakfast for the kids, a cherished daily routine that allows us to start the day together. After breakfast, I take the kids to school, a precious time that we use to talk and connect. Once they're at school, I start my workday, diving into my tasks with a clear mind.

Lunch is a special part of my day where my wife and I take the time to enjoy a meal together, stepping away from work to reconnect and share our morning experiences. After lunch, we resumed work, focused, and recharged.

In the afternoon, we pick up the kids from school, shifting our attention to spending quality time with them. Giving them my full attention during these moments is crucial for me, ensuring that we bond and engage in meaningful activities.

Dinner is a family affair, where we gather to enjoy a meal together, discussing our day and sharing laughs. This time is invaluable for maintaining our family connection.

After the kids are in bed, my day transitions back to work, using this quiet time to catch up on tasks or plan for the next day. Before sleep, I dedicate time to reading, a habit that helps me unwind and expand my knowledge, rounding off my day with a sense of fulfillment and growth.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership lesson I've learned, which was both enlightening and a reminder of the nuanced nature of effective leadership, came from a coaching session with a partner of a leading law firm. It became clear that, despite his sharp and often accurate analyses, his leadership was not as effective as it could be. The primary issue was his approach to communication; he had a tendency to express his opinions directly without giving others space to share their thoughts or feelings. This made him appear rigid, unfriendly, or stubborn to his peers and employees, which in turn led to difficulties in rallying his team around his ideas.

This experience highlighted the critical balance between assertiveness and empathy in leadership, emphasizing the need for clear, direct communication coupled with active listening and inclusivity. It reinforced the importance of emotional intelligence, showing that understanding and respecting others' perspectives significantly enhances a leader's effectiveness. Effective leadership is about facilitating a collaborative process that values all contributions, creating an environment where everyone feels heard and valued, and fostering better collaboration, innovation, and commitment.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius is particularly significant for me as a coach for senior lawyers. The book's emphasis on ethical leadership resonates deeply within the legal profession, where integrity and the pursuit of collective good are not just ideals but essential standards. In guiding senior lawyers, the principles of ethical leadership become crucial for navigating complex ethical dilemmas, ensuring that their actions not only uphold the highest standards of the law but also of morality. Furthermore, the concept of servant leadership, as outlined in "Meditations," aligns with the coaching philosophy I impart. It encourages legal leaders to view their roles not as positions of power but as opportunities to serve their teams, clients, and the justice system, fostering an environment of respect, collaboration, and societal contribution. This perspective is invaluable for senior lawyers who wield significant influence, reminding them that their leadership can be a force for positive change.

Additionally, "Meditations" is of immense value for the personal growth and well-being of the senior lawyers I coach. Its teachings offer profound insights into self-reflection, resilience, and the importance of balancing professional responsibilities with personal well-being. By integrating the stoic wisdom of Marcus Aurelius into their lives, senior lawyers can cultivate a more mindful approach to their work and lives, enhancing their effectiveness as leaders while also nurturing their mental and emotional health.

Especially in these turbulent times, maintaining moral standards is essential in demonstrating leadership. The challenges and pressures of the modern world make it all the more critical for leaders to adhere to ethical principles and act as beacons of integrity and resilience. "Meditations" serves as a timeless reminder of the importance of steadfast ethical leadership and the role of personal virtues in navigating the complexities of life and work. Thus, it provides a foundational framework for my coaching practice, supporting the development of principled, effective, and well-rounded legal leaders who are equipped to lead with honor and contribute positively to their communities and the broader legal landscape.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I were to offer a single piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: Cultivate self-awareness and practice self-reflection diligently. Never underestimate the value of understanding your own thoughts, emotions, and actions, and how they impact those around you. By engaging in regular self-reflection, a leader can develop the self-discipline necessary to respond to challenges with wisdom, maintain integrity under pressure, and lead with compassion and empathy. This practice not only helps in making more considered decisions but also in building resilient and ethical leadership that inspires trust and respect. In essence, self-awareness is the foundation upon which the virtues of great leadership are built.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One meaningful story from my leadership journey involves a significant transition not just for me professionally but also for my family personally. As the owner and leader of an organization, I was deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations and the overall success of my business. The thought of stepping away from a traditional office setting, to embark on a life abroad with my family, was both exhilarating and daunting.

The decision to move abroad and transition my coaching practice for lawyers to an entirely online platform was driven by a desire for a change in lifestyle and a belief in the potential for growth beyond the conventional office walls. This step required a profound trust in myself and in the resilience and adaptability of my family. It also necessitated a leap of faith in the robustness of the relationships I had built with my clients and the value of the services I provided.

The journey was not without its challenges. Adapting to a new country, culture, and way of life while ensuring the continuity and growth of my business demanded not just logistical adjustments but a mental and emotional shift. I had to embrace new ways of connecting with my clients, leveraging technology to bridge the physical distance between us. This period of transition was a testament to the power of adaptability, the importance of maintaining strong communication, and the value of trust—trust in my family to support this new chapter, trust in my clients to stay with me despite the changes, and trust in myself to navigate the uncertainties of this bold move.

Reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of the importance of flexibility in leadership, the strength found in vulnerability, and the incredible potential for personal and professional growth when you step out of your comfort zone. This story is a cornerstone of my journey, illustrating how embracing change and fostering trust can lead to fulfilling outcomes not just for a leader, but for their family and business as well.

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