Why Great Leaders Let Go to Grow With Chad Dudley
When your company is in its early stages, the leadership team often wears many hats. However, as your company evolves, your leadership roles need to evolve as well. This often means that leaders need to let go and delegate — otherwise you run the risk of restraining business growth.
Letting go can be difficult, no matter what type of business you run. Luckily, successful leaders have some tried-and-true strategies to share how they grew their businesses and reinvented themselves as a leader.
According to Chad Dudley, your core values and your “why” should be at the helm of your organization. You need clarity on where you are as a firm, where you want to go, and why you wake up every morning to do what you do. Without the “why,” everything loses its power.
When you understand these key factors, you can promote them throughout the firm — but the process doesn’t end with you as a leader. Your team should be an extension of you, delivering on promises, core values, and a passion for the business. It’s not a leader’s job to do routine tasks. A leader’s job is to equip employees with the tools and skillsets needed to deliver.
What other tactics can help you evolve as a leader, learn to let go, and help your business grow to its full potential?
Listen to this episode of The Judd Shaw Way Podcast with Judd Shaw featuring Chad Dudley, Partner at Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. Together, they talk about how leaders can take ownership of business development, learn to delegate tasks, and use their core values to drive growth.
In this episode:
- [0:42] Judd Shaw introduces his guest, Chad Dudley, and the topic of the day: letting go to grow
- [2:14] How Chad leads a large, successful firm while remaining dedicated to clients
- [3:28] What does “letting go to grow” mean?
- [4:56] The challenges leaders face as their company grows
- [6:35] Chad’s tips to keep the client front and center
- [9:20] How can a firm grow and manage all of the moving parts?
- [12:28] Predictable problems that all companies face — and how to prepare for them
- [15:48] The secret to building a customer-focused company
- [22:38] Chad talks about the leadership principles that helped them thrive during the pandemic
- [25:33] Chad describes his work at cj Advertising
Hi, everyone. I’m Judd Shaw, host of the Judd Shaw Way Podcast. Right now, my podcast has been focusing on delivering excellent customer experience. Today’s topic, letting go to grow, we’ll discuss how a company’s leadership needs to evolve as the company evolves. I have the pleasure of having Chad Dudley as my guest. Chad is a partner with the law firm of Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. Dudley DeBosier, with decades of experience handling personal injury cases, is one of, if not the, best injury lawyers in the state of Louisiana. The company just does such an amazing job on managing their reputation, delivering remarkable service and getting involved in their statewide community. I’m really excited for this one. It’s going to be hard to think of any more important formula for any company that wants to scale or is growing to keep the focus on the customer over the business. I hope you enjoy this discussion. I’m here with Chad Dudley of the Louisiana law firm Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. Welcome, Chad.
Yeah, Judd. Thanks for having me.
Chad, managing partner of a firm with nearly 60 attorneys, 150-plus support team, that’s a large law firm in terms of employee headcount, and I guess could be very well Louisiana’s largest personal injury law firm. How do you lead such a large successful operation while maintaining the company’s dedication to clients?
Well, look, it’s a challenge. It’s just been such a long journey over the years. We started the firm in 2009. You hit it on the nose. It’s grown to probably about 56-plus attorneys, about 200-plus support team members and all over the state of Louisiana. And it’s a challenge. I did consulting for a long time, for about a decade, and at our firm and firms I worked with, what I noticed is, things break every time you double. You got 10 people in the office, everything works great. You go to 20, everything breaks. You go to 40, everything breaks. You go to 80, everything breaks. You go to 160, everything breaks. And I say everything breaks; a lot of the stuff that seemed to work tends to stop working the way it used to and you have to sort of reinvent how you go about things. For us, the biggest challenge was probably when we got to… Going from 40 to 80 employees was really tough, growing at that size. Going from 80 to 160 was actually easier. It went by in a heartbeat. 40 to 80, everything broke in a big way.
Let’s talk about the concept of letting it grow to grow. What does that mean to you?
When you start off your law firm, it’s a new business. You’re a startup and you wear a number of hats. You might be the IT guy one day, you might be marketing, you’re handling case, you might make coffee, you might do it all, right? You’re just trying to get your firm off the ground and you wear a bunch of different hats. As you grow, if you try to hold onto all those hats, you become the bottleneck, you’re preventing the growth at your firm, and so you have to start and let go of certain things and let people handle those. As you grow even further, your level of involvement drops significantly. And if you don’t do that, you can strangle your firm or strangle your business in how fast it grows, how effectively it grows, how effortlessly it grows, and so that’s a challenge.
Companies face various challenges as they grow, as you just pointed out, and those challenges, I think, are often actual predictable change for businesses at various sizes. So a company that’s acting like a gazelle may have a few to, say, 20 employees and perhaps they’re experiencing rapid growth. And then there’s those companies that doubled to 40 staff and again to 80 and a team of 160 and that just continues. What are the managers experiencing at those levels?
Well, what happens and is the biggest challenge, I think, that we all run in into is that as you grow, you have to grow with it. I mean, the manager, the leader that you were when you had 10 employees or 10 team members, you got to be twice as good, I think, when you hit 20 and you got to be twice as good as that when you hit 40. I think as law firm owners, or if you’re in law firm leadership, you have to take that seriously. Take ownership of your education and of your development to say, “How am I going to make myself better at this a year from now, two years from now?” You have to grow with your company.
What you do see, sometimes, though, is there’s key people that were awesome when you guys were 20 employees that get overwhelmed when you go to 40. And in some situations we’ve had to move people that were in leadership when we were a certain size out of leadership once we grew past where they were comfortable being a leader. That’s a challenge. Or you have to get them training and you got people that grow with your company. So it’s different for each person in leadership. But there’s no doubt that as you get to a larger size, the people in leadership just have to be better leaders. It’s more and more challenging. The complexities multiply.
Chad, you’ve pointed out those size differences. Regardless of size and growth, what would the tips you’d give these law firms or even companies to keep the client front and center over anything else? How do you do it?
Yeah. I think getting clarity on where you’re going as a firm is one thing. Every year, one thing that we always did is that we try to be clear about here’s where we are as a firm, here’s where we want to go, and then sharing that with our leadership team. That gives them an idea, “Okay, this is the direction that we’re going in.” The other thing is that your core values are what rules are you going to play by to get from point A to point B. And for us, it is five things: we’re going to take care of our team, we’re going to take care of our clients, we’re going to be the best at what we do, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to give back. So those five things are the rules by which we are going to abide by when we’re trying to get from point A to point B. And we share that.
The interesting thing is that, if you have one partner and you have 10 employees, that partner makes up 10% of the firm’s DNA. At 20 employees, you’re now 5%. At a 100 employees, you’re now 1%. Your ability to impact the culture of your team gets diluted. So what you need is, you need leadership that can also be ambassadors for your culture, having clear values, having clear direction, and then having help, once you get to a certain size, of other people that are culture ambassadors, brand ambassadors, that are throughout the firm, basically being an extension of you, why you started the firm, why you wake up every morning and do what you do, why you treat the clients the way you treat the clients. Can they help get that message to a larger crowd when your ability to influence is now diluted? That’s at the core of what we try and do, is we need leaders that understand our culture and then promote it throughout the firm.
So I think it makes a lot of sense when a owner who’s very successful growing a company, dealing with 20 clients who all love the guy, can’t do that at 200 clients, and so now he’s got to find other people to do it just the way he would do it or be able to deliver the vision, the core values, the promises, and be able to trust that those guys will carry it on just like he did. The women and men of companies essentially are the ones that are growing it. Dudley DeBosier, they just produce. They produce results, they produce client satisfaction. How do you manage it all?
There there’s so much that goes into it. You asked one of the questions… What would you tell a firm that is a smaller size and wants to grow? Part of it is getting your core processes straight way before you think you need those core product processes. Because in the beginning, when we start up a firm, we’re like, “Okay, we don’t need systems, we don’t need processes, we’re just going to do it. Those things get in the way.” I would say, “Hold up. Document this. Create your systems and processes so that when you grow, they’re already there. You don’t want to have to figure those things out when the car is already going 100 miles an hour. You want to figure it out when it’s at a standstill and you can take your time and work on it.”
Now, when we’re looking at the firm as a whole, and you’re saying, “Okay, well, what does quality control look like?” It’s a bunch of checks and balances going, “Okay, we’re very metric driven.” We go, “Okay,” we study the top performers and go, “What are they doing better than all the other attorneys and what can we do that can be repeated?” We always ask, “Is it an art, or is it a science?” An art is, it’s tough to replicate, it’s tough to explain, it’s really tough to train, and we think there’s very, very few things that fit in that category, but when they do, they do. But if it’s a science, understanding, “Let’s break down the science of it and see, how can we replicate it? How can we measure it? How can we make it easier for the attorneys to abide by it? How often do we talk to clients and what do we talk to them about at certain parts of the case that eases their concerns and their fears and breaking down the mechanics of representation, making sure that each person is delivering a great experience, a great client service in a repeatable way.”
And then the other part of that is making sure we’re systematic about getting feedback from our clients and how often we survey the clients and what do they say, and what do we do with that information? How do we encourage them to be honest? That gives us some visual on how they see us. All these things work together so that you can spot areas where you’re not delivering what you want to deliver in terms of service or representation up to your… We have a high standard on both. If we’re not meeting that standard, we have systems and processes reporting, heavily report driven, feedback from the clients that tells us, “Okay, go fix this. Go address it with this attorney, with this legal assistant, with this thing that’s not working for the client, and let’s make it better.” It is an ongoing, constant process.
I’m born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, so I got some history there in your state. I know very well that Dudley DeBosier does such an excellent job at creating a client experience. Your clients come back if they need help. They refer their friends and their loved ones to the firm. They participate heavily in your company events. You really get a real sense that your clients feel like Dudley DeBosier family. I’m wondering if you have any tips to addressing predictable problems so that you don’t lose focus on the customer, the problems that any company will still face, generally, as they grow, will be faced by all companies at that same growth. Using those predictable problems, what are your tips to sort of looking for them and planning for them?
When you’re growing as a law firm, one of the things that is an often recurring issue is that there’ll be a system in place or some procedure, and at some point along the way, the why, the reason for that procedure, the purpose of that procedure gets lost. Then you got someone that is doing this thing and they don’t totally get why they’re doing that thing, and so they do it from a mechanical mindset and sometimes so much so that it doesn’t even serve the purpose it originally intended. You see that as you grow, because as you start this thing, you go, “Hey, we do this. We explain this to the client on the very first phone call and here’s why we do it, da, da, da.”
And then down the road, people don’t understand why we’re doing that. They either stop doing it or they do it in a way that is ineffective. What you find is that you constantly need to be sharing, “Here’s why we do these things. Here’s why we think this way. Here’s why we look at things this way.” That is almost as key as having the procedure in place itself. Without the why, everything loses its power.
That’s a predictable problem. As you grow, your team will probably lose touch with the why. And also as an owner, understand, why do you do what you do? Why is it important to have a firm that… Why not have a mediocre firm? Why not have a firm that is mediocre and makes some money and go about your business? Why is it so important to you to be great and deliver great representation and deliver great client service? Okay, let tell you why. This is the kind of firm I want to be proud of. I want to know that if a friend or a family member calls us up, that they can get matched up with any attorney in our office and I have complete peace of mind that that attorney is going to do an amazing job for that person and treat them unbelievably well. I want that type of confidence in a firm that has my name on it. I want to have that type of confidence in the people that I work with. I think our team members want to have that type of confidence in the leadership, that that’s what they’re striving to be. It’s fun to be great at something, it’s not fun to be mediocre at something.
No, it’s not. Chad, you’ve provided consulting to easily over 100 other personal injury law firms by now, both in your work with Vista Consulting and now as CEO of cj Advertising. I know you’re also a voracious reader of business leadership books. I get your monthly book club, book email, and I always try to read kind of the books you’re reading. I always promise the listeners that I’ll get some secret insight tips from industry experts such as yourself. So with all that, what’s the trick to building a customer-focused company?
The why. Going back to the why, first and foremost, is incredibly important, going, “Why is it so important that every single person that has an interaction with our office, that we try and make it a great experience, whether it’s the FedEx guy delivering packages, whether it is someone bringing the coffee, whether it is a person with a potential case that calls us up that doesn’t fit the criteria for what we handle, so we turn it down or someone that does have a case that we handle? Why is it important to have great interactions with all of those people?” And explain, “Hey, look, there’s a bunch of law firms out there and these guys can interact with any number of them and they’re going to interact with us in some form or fashion. If they are impressed, not only when we just take the case and we want to represent them, but how we just treat them as people across the board, then that’s good for us.”
One, it’s just the right thing to do. And two, it helps grow your business. Understand that’s where we’re coming from, from that mentality, and explaining that to them. Then the other part of that is, you have a lot of people that would say, “Okay, well, that’s great. I’m in.” You have to then equip them with the skill sets to deliver on them. Whether it is beat the greet, are you going to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know in the lobby before they introduce themselves to you? Are you going to make sure that if someone’s looking for something in the office, that you walk them to it instead of just pointing them in that direction? Are you going to, on a rainy day, make sure that they have an umbrella when they’re walking out to their car? When a client calls for someone that we don’t take, or not a case that we want to handle, how kind and compassionate are we to help them find, maybe, someone who can, even if we have no fee interest in that transaction or get them resources that will help them?
Just do the right thing, be a good human and training people on how do you do that? How do you handle a client complaint in a compassionate and kind way, and training them in that? Passionate attorney, what should he cover in that first phone call with a client to let them know that he’s on top of all these things and address their fears before they raise them? And training people to deliver on this expectation that we have then makes them feel like, “Okay, I’m not overwhelmed. When I run into this thing, here’s what I do. When I run into that thing, here’s what I do.” We find it’s a combination of saying, “Here’s why we do it. Here’s the standard that we’re where we’re striving for. And then here’s the tools that we’re going to train you on, on how to get there.” That’s a part of it.
The other part that we talk with firms about, how do you build your culture? I think it’s important to write down, what does your culture mean to you? I mentioned five things earlier on this podcast, that we take care of our team members, take care of our clients, we want to be great at what we do, we want to have fun, we want to give back. I think all firms, that’s our culture, but what those things mean at a very granular level, you should write down and it should be so that everyone can see it and be on the same page as to what that means.
When we say take care of one another, that means giving each other the benefit of the doubt in all transactions. I’m going to assume that you meant well. I’m never going to assume that that person is out to get me or I got a team member that doesn’t have my best interest at heart. I’m going to begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt in all transactions. I’m not going to gossip. If I have an issue with someone, I’m going to commit to taking it up with them directly. For clients, if it means great clients service, what does that mean? Well, I’m going to return their phone calls the same day I possibly can in any way, shape or form. I’m going to always treat them with professionalism and respect regardless of how they act, because they may be going through a lot. Defining what all these things mean is like your culture document, which we have, and that’s important, because that tells people what these values mean to everyone that’s at the firm.
Another thing is that we do huddles. We do huddles with everyone at the firm and we get together and we celebrate when those values that we talked about are exemplified by team members. If someone does something that shows outstanding care for taking care of another teammate or taking care of a client or just having fun or doing great work or giving back, we celebrate it in that huddle. We go, “Hey, look, we need to give a shout out to so and so who, this Saturday, took time out of their morning to go read books to this group of kids at this thing, or donated their time to this charity, or got this great result for a client or went out of their way to help this team member with this thing or whatever.” You got to celebrate those values publicly because then that demonstrates to the team how important they are.
And then finally, one of the things that’s just the truth of it is that, you may have really awesome, great people that work at your firm that just don’t share those same values or don’t exemplify those same values. And no matter how great they are, they need to go somewhere else. They will kill your culture in a heart beat, and your culture is more important than any one person, no matter how amazing they are. So those things, for firms to build culture, those are some of the talking points.
Well said. Chad, as we’re witnessing under the current environment with this pandemic, businesses can be unpredictable, up and down, and really fast moving. I read a book authored by Jim Collins and Morton Hansen titled Great By Choice. I know that you’ve read that book as well. For those that have not read it, it’s easily considered as one of the best leadership books of all time. The authors studied a comparison of companies that failed to achieve greatness in extreme environments. And those that were actually quite successful, and the great companies and leaders that built them, they found were not any luckier, but they certainly got a higher return on luck. Collins and Hanson showed convincingly that even in a chaotic and uncertain world, greatness happens by choice, not chance. Dudley DeBosier continues to provide outstanding client service in this uncertainty, even business chaos, that some are going through, yet your firm remains above the norm in client satisfaction, it’s maximizing your client’s recoveries, and other companies may or can’t do it under these circumstances. What’s the difference there?
Well, look, Great By Choice, awesome book. What is it, the follow up to from Good to Great and talk about a lot of concepts. When they talk about level five leadership, the highly qualified leaders, one trait is that those leaders, when something goes right, they sometimes attribute it to luck out of humility, but when something goes wrong, they take ownership of it. And they say, “Okay, here’s what I did or how I could have prevented this thing that could have gone better.” But from an outsider looking in, the firms I’ve seen that have been consistent… And I think there’s a… With The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
And so when you take an opportunity, and you’ve probably seen this at your firm and in your career, going, “I took a chance and I grabbed that opportunity. And because I grabbed that opportunity, oh my gosh, a whole bunch of other stuff opened up and had I not grabbed that thing, I don’t know… Something else may have come along if I worked hard and kept taking chances, but when you seize those opportunities, more open up.” And so I think that’s what we’ve seen, is that the firms that have… There’s all sorts of things that can impact personal injury firms. It can be legislation. It could be changes in the judiciary. It could be pandemic. We’ve seen floods. We’ve seen hurricanes. We’ve seen different things impact law firms over the years.
And so we had this event that impacted every single industry and what we saw, the firms that were operationally sound actually came out ahead or they came out better. They took the time, they took ownership of the moment they were facing, and they made their firms better during this time. They were able to get things done at a way higher rate than they would have in normal times. So a lot of the firms I was talking to were like, “Man, it was rough, we worked our butts off, but on the other side of this, we’re a better firm.” We feel that way about our firm at Dudley DeBosier, going, “It wasn’t fun, but because of our culture, because of our leadership, because of the things that we felt like we were doing right before this pandemic hit, when it did hit, it brought us closer. We worked harder, we got more stuff done, we were still able to serve our clients. We were able to get through COVID without letting a single person go because of COVID and we got to the other side with our team. And so we’re a better firm right now than we were in January of this year.”
Chad, I mentioned previously that you’re also the CEO of cj Advertising on top of managing Dudley DeBosier. Tell me briefly about cj Advertising.
Well, yeah. You talk about opportunities that open up as you do other things. I’ve been doing consulting for 10 years. I started at Vista Consulting with Tim Mackey, which was designed around, “How can we make law firms better across the board?” We worked with, as you mentioned, over 100 law firms over a decade, and that was a great experience. Toward the end of that decade, there was an opportunity. The owner of cj Advertising, Arnie Malham, was interested in retiring. We talked to him and we felt like it was a good fit for us to take over the leadership of cj. We had used the agency for 15-plus years to grow our firm. We were very close with the leaders at that agency. We sat down and talked to him and decided, “Look, this is going to be a good fit.”
So we purchased the agency from Arnie on January 1st, 2018, and have been rolling with it since that time and have been able to grow it and just build a really, really cool company that helps firms grow. It helps personal injury law firms grow. We do it all. I mean, not only just with the advertising side, but help firms operate more operationally sound and build their systems and processes. That’s kind of been the differentiator for us in terms of an ad agency for law firms, is that we don’t just say, “Hey, give us some dollars and we’ll go put it on TV.” We look at holistically, what are the best channels for you to advertise on, to get clients in the door? It’s customized per law firm. And then we talk to them about the art and science of running a law firm and how they can help their firm run smoother and exactly where they need to zero in their time, effort, energy, and attention to make their law firm run smoother.
It’s really an incredible agency when you talk about all the specialized services you can provide law firms in building and scaling. That’s kind of what we’re talking about today. Any interested out there on more on cj Advertising, you’d certainly email Micki, Micki Love at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at cjadvertising.com. Great, great organization there. Chad, we’re going to wrap up here, but I got to ask you. So you have two partners, Steven and James, who can drink more hurricanes and be the last partner standing?
Absolutely James. I think my money’s on James. I’ve seen him. James has got a different, I don’t know, he’s inhuman. Two awesome guys, great trial attorneys. None of this would be possible without those two guys and lots of fun. You spent some time around him. It’s hard to have a bad time if you’re with those two guys.
Thanks so much, Chad. Such a pleasure having you on today and sharing very effective tools so all of us can build and grow profitable, but never losing sight that without a client, there is no business and the client always comes first. Thanks so much, Chad, for coming on today.
Thanks for having me. Appreciate-
If you or a friend or a loved one have been injured in an accident in Louisiana, you would definitely be mistaken not to look to the attorneys of Dudley DeBosier. Talk to them. And from what I know of this firm, and from what you heard today, the Dudley DeBosier difference, it’s just amazing. They go the extra mile for their clients. I’m so happy chad was able to take some time away from his schedule to talk with me today. If you want to reach out to Chad, his email is cdudley@DudleyDeBosier.com. You can also reach him at 225-230-3490 or visit their website at DudleyDeBosier.com. That’s D-U-D-L-E-Y-D-E-B-O-S-I-E-R.com. And, as always, you could reach out to me with any questions or feedback, positive or negative, any type of feedback, and let me know the topics that are important to you on the subject of building a first class customer experience with your company. You can reach me at email@example.com. Be sure to request some swag in your email, and we’ll be happy to send you some merch from my law firm. Thanks again for listening to the Judd Shaw Way.
🎙️ Featured Guest 🎙️
Name: Chad Dudley
Short Bio: Chad Dudley is a Partner at Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. He’s been at the firm for over 15 years, starting out as the Chief Operating Officer. Chad continuously fights for injured people and has vast knowledge in the areas of automobile accidents, personal injuries, toxic torts, securities litigation, and class action lawsuits. In 2012, he was selected for inclusion in Louisiana Super Lawyers.
Company: Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers
🔑 Relevant Resources 🔑
- Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
- cj Advertising
- Vista Consulting
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