"Something's wrong."

This simple phrase uttered by Henry Lee, an expert witness on DNA testing, in the famous 1995 murder trial of the American celebrity O.J. Simpson, resonated with the jury.

It was the beginning of the collapse of the prosecution's case. "Something's wrong" hung like a low fog over the rest of the trial.

We all know when "something's wrong" – whether we act on it or not. There is this place of inquietude in our thoughts that tells us "something's wrong" - whether in our relationships, in our careers, or in our organizations.

Sometimes we decide to "wait and see," hoping the nagging thoughts or conditions will resolve themselves or magically point the way forward. Usually they don't, but it's worth a try.

Ignoring these messages that "something's wrong" can take a toll on us. We invest emotional, mental and even physical effort in mentally "spinning" the messages, as we try to convince ourselves that "It's really OK," "This too shall pass," or "There's nothing I can do about it." This process becomes a chronic drag on our energy and focus, to say nothing of our sense of well being, optimism, and financial performance.

So what is a lawyer to do? The starting point for getting things done in law firms and other legal services organizations is to listen to these thoughts that are suggesting that "something's wrong." Accepting, defining, and prioritizing the need for change releases in each of us for constructive purposes the energy that we would otherwise waste on denial and blame.

What could be more logical? The problem is that when we have ignored or rationalized these persistent warning signs for too long, they get lost in the maze of our unconscious. They affect our dreams and stress levels, but never crystallize into clear "calls to action."

It takes skills of emotional intelligence and the knowledge of how to unlock these sometimes ambiguous "calls to action" that free us to start the courageous process of implementing change.

Lawyers who are adept at logically and systematically gathering evidence, analyzing legal problems, and shaping recommendations and solutions for their external clients often struggle to define clearly their own concerns and to unlock solutions to problematic relationships and conditions in their own organizations.


Lisa M. Walker Johnson