Advice for Navigating a New Leadership Role

Blair Lichtenfels is co-chair of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck's Real Estate Department.

By Blair Lichtenfels

Recently, my colleagues at Brownstein appointed me as co-chair of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Real Estate Department

My best advice for new leaders, and especially women, is to lean into the qualities and skills some may not count as strengths. Often the best leaders are compassionate, in tune with their teams, and can skillfully balance the needs of the group with their own ambitions. 

My top three pieces of advice for women (or anyone) looking to claim a seat at the table: trust yourself and listen to your colleagues; remember that strong leadership is not about the leader but about the team; and it is critical to focus on long-term goals (not short-term successes).

Trust Yourself and Listen To Your Colleagues

As a new leader, it is easy to look in the mirror and wonder why your colleagues selected you for this new role. Thoughts like: “Do I have an appropriate strategic vision for this group?” or “How will I balance leadership responsibilities with my day-to-day business responsibilities?” can permeate or color actions.

Instead, refocus your actions and trust yourself, stop wondering why and have confidence that you were selected for good reason. Then, use that self-assurance to help members of the group you lead determine where they can be confident and what they are good at, and then strategize how to optimize these skills and traits the best they can. How best to do that? Listen to your colleagues. Effective leadership is built on a foundation of genuine engagement and active listening, and this is most important when feedback may be critical or negative. Some of the biggest opportunities in my career started with feedback from colleagues that I could have interpreted as critical. But looking at that feedback as an opportunity rather than a criticism furthered my success. 

Trusting yourself and being in tune with your team’s true desires, intentions and fears are essential to anticipating issues before they become intractable problems. Take meaningful lessons from mistakes when you inevitably make them, and this will ultimately advance the objectives of the collective group.

Remember Leadership Is Not About You

The phrase “to whom much has been given, much shall be required” reminds me that being a leader is not about how my leadership role might benefit me personally but about my obligation to help my real estate colleagues and the department as a whole.

As a practice chair and mentor, my goal is not to be the star but to help others play to their strengths, improve where possible, mitigate challenges and ultimately succeed in a way that lets them flourish. Any collective is only as strong as its weakest link. 

The World Economic Forum’s research on gender equality emphasizes the importance of fostering environments where individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute to their fullest potential. A recent study detailed in the Harvard Business Review found that leaders who empower their employees have more creative teams that are more engaged in nonmandatory tasks and are more trusted by their direct reports. 

Empowered leaders also transcend their affinity groups. Most of my mentors in my early legal career consisted of men at Brownstein and women in outside professional groups. I benefitted equally from both.

Focus on the Long Term

Early in my career, a mentor (and firm leader) advised me that the practice of law was “a marathon and not a sprint.” This advice rings true as I navigate co-chairing Brownstein’s Real Estate Department. I am focused on concrete, measurable goals and thinking about where I want the department and my colleagues to be in one year, three years, and five years, respectively.

Effective leadership also requires reviewing decisions through the lens of long-term goals and maintenance of personal and professional character. How will decisions be viewed by the future shareholders in the Real Estate Group? Play the long game and be good to your mentors and reports—leadership is about integrity and relationships.

When I first went on maternity leave, I was worried about stepping away from work and my clients, and how that would affect my long-term trajectory. A mentor put it in perspective for me by pointing out that family leave was a mere few months away from work in a decades-long career. I encourage those who look to me for advice or as an example of how to be a successful lawyer to take the same holistic view — every career has seasons.

You never know when a relationship will become an important touchpoint. On the other side, you never know how much impact you could have on those you lead —and you can measure your success on the day those colleagues become the new leaders in your organization. 

As I look toward my second year in firm leadership, I’m excited to continue providing the Real Estate Group with the guidance they need to grow professionally and as a group. To do this, I will stay on task with my goal and that is to stay true to these truths and continue to help other women claim a seat at the table.

A real estate attorney focused on achieving her client’s business objectives, Blair Lichtenfels advises prominent developers and equity investors in connection with urban infill, brownfield, master-planned, mixed-use and transit-oriented developments. Blair’s reputation for closing transactions and cementing relationships among stakeholders coupled with shrewd negotiating skills and a collaborative approach results in achieving her clients’ development goals in Colorado’s urban centers and rural counties. 

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