And that requires the ability to have tools and platforms that let multiple people access and contribute in the time that is best for them, as opposed to a traditional way and the way that I’m used to ever since I graduated in 1992, which is emails with attachments that you sequentially send along. We use a Microsoft platform, there are lots of different platforms for collaboration, but I’m forcing us to use this Microsoft platform for different things that historically we would do by email with attachments.
It doesn’t sound like the biggest change in the world, but I can tell you that lawyers aren’t always comfortable with change. And for a legal team that has grown up and matured using email, it can feel very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to try to learn something new because it is new, and it requires time. And it introduces another anxiety, is that geez, now you’re giving me yet another thing to have to be opening and working on. I can’t solve the first problem other than saying we have to learn new things. What I’d like to do to solve for that second problem to say, this isn’t about adding one more layer.
This is about replacing. Replace email with a collaboration platform. And so again, just as a simple example, I’ve set up some channels with each of my directors, and we’ve decided we are not going to email agendas for meetings to each other. We are going to post those agendas on the site, and it lets us both collaboratively fill out those agendas in real-time before the meeting. It’s new, but I’m really optimistic that those little steps are going to open everybody’s eyes towards, this is working, and it actually is reducing email load, and the more we can do this, the less email I’ll ever have to see. That’s one example of how we’re trying to embrace more modern ways of working together.
Liam: So much of this is in parallel – which will make you laugh because one of my big themes is the role of the General Counsel as a Business Executive. The problems you’re facing are the same problems I’m facing as the CEO of a company. I think about some of the things you talk about in moving from me-centric to we-centric. And you touched earlier on the importance of trust-building. I had a group collaborating just yesterday, and I asked us to collaborate on a document rather than email the document to each other. Well, there was – the fundamental question, but who else can see this? Do we really believe that it’s something that only the five of us can see? And that was an interesting conversation as a tech-forward organization. I was surprised. These are real things, aren’t they, that we have to lead people through?
Matt: Right. I really believe this is important, not just for our team but for our company. I think it’s vital. I set up our CEO staff team site, and I set up sub channels for things that are important, like the future of work diversity, inclusion, and belonging. A variety of things where I’m forcing the same with that team, what we call Team one, and with my team, which we call Team two. So you’re right. Speaking as not just the head of the legal department but as one of the business executives, I’m trying to force the same, embracing new modes of working.
Liam: I’ll bet you not many people have thought about the work that you’ve been doing, leading other executives. Hey, we in our law department have developed some experience in a collaboration that we trust – even for sensitive, confidential topics. I’m thinking that I almost can’t say this, that this sort of innovation for the future is coming out of the law department.
Matt: I’m probably not the only General Counsel that would say this, but there are certainly days where I’m sitting in a staff meeting with the other functional leaders, and I’m saying you guys are reaching a conclusion I already reached three years ago. Why don’t you just listen? In almost every company, there is a certain level of perceived and real independence for the General Counsel and the Legal Department. And that independence is important for the work we do. That’s one reason why I think traditionally, GCs haven’t always migrated into other leadership positions in the company.
But Liam, I think that’s changing. I think we’re seeing that change more and more. Some of my colleagues and friends who I respect immensely have taken on broader roles at their companies. In technology, there are examples of General Counsels who’ve been elevated to CEO roles. You see that in highly regulated industries. But I feel like – and all this is is a feeling, but I feel like there’s more of an appetite and acceptance for General Counsel who aspire to have larger roles in the company to actually be considered for those larger roles. It seems like the tide has shifted in some ways over the last year or two, and I think that’s good because my friends who have taken on bigger roles in their companies are doing an awesome job. And I think they’ll be the trailblazers for those of us who aspire to do the same.
Liam: I feel strongly that companies, talk about building diverse organizations, and then keep our Executives in boxes. John is the General Counsel, and they’re left in a box. Or James is the head of sales and marketing. The part of the social movement that’s happening in the world is opening all of our eyes to the stereotypes that we carry around in our heads – that we have about other people. So, I’m delighted to see this. I will tell you, though, your comment about why didn’t you just listen to me three years ago? Just so you know, if you ever do become a CEO, you will actually say that. I promise you that is something that doesn’t change.
In terms of how you would advise lawyers earlier in their career, and the skills and capabilities or perhaps even the career roles you would encourage, or what to have them look for in a mentor, or to volunteer for, perhaps informed by your own experience, both positive or negative. What would you say to someone who is 10 years, 20 years, earlier in their career, now, about what things they should be leaning into?
Matt: Good question. I think about a lot and get asked about a lot, and I wish I had the perfect answer. But there’re a lot of different things, and if I went back, speaking for myself if I could go back 20 years, what would I do differently knowing now where I think my passions lie and where I think I can be successful? I think every lawyer would do themselves a huge favor if they just learn how to read and understand financials. That’s a basic skill set that you just have to have, especially if you want to work inside a company. You have to be able to speak that language. And that’s part one.
I also think that, at least when I was graduating and when I was starting in a big firm, the guidance given to us young lawyers is, just focus on being the best lawyer you can be. Be an excellent technical lawyer. And I think you need to be an excellent technical lawyer to be successful, but if you are not thinking about building your network – and we can talk about what that means. But if you’re not thinking about building a diverse network of people, both other lawyers but more importantly, people outside the Law, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Because you’ll get to a point in your career where you want to change jobs, or you want to pitch a client. And there will be people who’ve invested in getting a broader skillset beyond the technical skillset, and I think, almost always they’re going to win that battle. There’s no question that NetApp didn’t hire me because I’m the most technically gifted lawyer. I am clearly not. And I know that there were other people who were candidates for that role who were better technical lawyers, and who had more experience and had other dimensions to them. It was just a good fit. Part of that good fit was, that I brought a lot of other ideas and creativity into that role. So, start to reach out, and learn the language that you’re clients speak, understand the challenges that they face.
Try to be truly empathetic to what your clients are dealing with, whether they’re internal corporate clients or external clients. It took me a long time to learn that. And I’d love for younger lawyers to spend more time there.
Liam: I think having someone, a mentor, or leader, in some cases there to push young lawyers beyond their technical skills and to do things that they don’t yet the value is important. When I start to feel that – my business colleagues are making requests, that feel like demands, then that’s a signal that I need to actually step out of my CEO shoes to step into the shoes of my business colleagues and look at things from their perspective.
Matt: That resonates really powerfully with me, Liam, and it just brought back a memory from pretty early on in my in-house days, as I had migrated away from private practice. And it was around the negotiation of a fairly complicated commercial agreement with a big customer. It involved our salespeople and our operational people, and it involved me negotiating. I was taking the, probably intellectually correct hard line on certain things, and friction was mounting. And it was mounting not only with the customer, but it was also mounted with the team that was negotiating it, and I was the cause of it.
And the head of sales, the Senior Vice President, just pulled me aside and said, hey Matt, I’m not objecting to the outcome you’re trying to get to, but you need to understand, you’re getting pissed at someone on my team who’s the ability to support his family is dependent on getting this done. So try to have some appreciation for that. That’s not a reason to back off of positions that are important but understand the dynamic outside the intellectual battle over terms and conditions. And it was really a gift. That was a gift to me. He didn’t even have to do that. He could’ve just said, pipe down. And that’s a place where again, young lawyers – at least when I was a young lawyer, we weren’t encouraged, and we frankly didn’t get a lot of exposure to those kinds of situations. We produced work, and we sent it out. It was hard to see the whole context. So I would say that that’s quite important.
Liam: I have two questions, the last two questions, I’ll ask. And I’ll tell you what the questions are in advance. I’m going to ask you to finish a sentence, and then I’ll tell you the second question. I’m going to ask you to finish the sentence, “Leadership in tough times requires…” Now, don’t answer it for a minute. Just let that be playing in the back of your head because I’m going to ask you an easier question. What’s a book on leadership that informed that you’ve embraced some ideas from, or you’d recommend?
Matt: You probably know the answer to that one, Liam, because we talk about it a lot. And it’s Team of Teams. It’s not the only book, and if you’ve seen my bookshelves, they are overflowing. I’m a huge consumer of leadership books. I have a passion for that. But Team of Teams is by General McChrystal, and it has to do with his time running the JSOC, Joint Special Operating Unit, dealing with the challenges we have in the Middle East in combating terrorism. The theme is around rethinking traditional organizational structures to deliver results in an ambiguous world.
And it’s not, again, a blueprint, but it contained a lot of ideas that I still implement in the way I think we need to approach the work we do at NetApp. And if you’d give me a chance to put one other in there, because I come back to it quite a bit, Marshall Goldsmith, who belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of leadership thinking, wrote a book that I think is called, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. And it’s a simple premise, all of the skills and resources and achievements you have that got you to the place you are today, are not going to be the things that get you to that next level – if you aspire to that next level.
You have to continuously grow, and you have to remain curious and thoughtful, and consume, and I believe it. It’s been true for me and my career, and I think any ambitious person should read that book.
Liam: So, hopefully, your mind has been processing the answer to this question – ” Leadership in tough times requires…”
Matt: Caring, empathy, and intensity.
Liam: I feel like I have to ask you to explain that, and then we’ll close.
Matt: Sure. At the heart of every company, no matter what type of industry you’re in, there are people. Building the trust that people need to have in each other requires a level of caring. I forget who said it, but the best way to show people that you care is to actually care. I want to know that my colleagues care about me, and I hope my colleagues feel I care about them. That’s the fundamentals. To enable some of that caring, you have to have empathy. I think it’s important to understand, especially now, as we are reawakened around some really important social justice issues that all companies need to really try to solve.
We have to open up that empathy lens a lot wider and really hear people and understand people where they are. I think those two go hand in hand, they are different, but one will reinforce the other. And lastly, intensity. It’s hard right now. There is five times more work than can physically be done. Leaders need to lead by example in this regard. And I don’t think we’re going to get through this world sitting, waiting, and hoping. I think there has to be a ton of energy and intensity dedicated towards helping our teams manage through a very cloudy ambiguous time, and coming out successfully.
Liam: Matt, thank you very much. Fascinating conversation about leadership in law, and I hope actually, beyond the law.
Matt: My pleasure, Liam. Thanks for including me, and it’s always great to talk to you.