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Looking at the future state of general counsel

The importance of legal leadership

Explore insights, experiences, and advice on the future of general counsel with Mark Roellig, former chief legal officer and chief technology officer of MassMutual. Here, he shares the importance of legal leadership, teaming, and living your values.

Reflections of a CLO

Lori Lorenzo, Research and Insights leader for Deloitte’s Chief Legal Officer (CLO) Program, recently interviewed Mark Roellig about his career, the lessons he’s learned, and his thoughts about the path forward for the legal profession. Roellig is an executive who most recently served as the chief technology officer of MassMutual, and chief legal officer before that. His career also included chief legal officer roles at three other public companies, including Fisher Scientific International Inc., StorageTek, and US WEST.

Over the course of these positions, Roellig had responsibility for a wide range of functions, including human resources, administrative services, corporate strategy, compliance, public policy, public relations, executive travel, claims, real estate, facilities, information technology systems and architecture, cyber and information security, and strategic technology investments. If you ask Roellig, he calls it “wandering corporate America,” and credits his success entirely to the teams he’s had the opportunity and privilege to lead.

Today, Roellig actively coaches and mentors sitting executives—primarily CLOs, but an occasional CEO, too—on strategy, leadership, and business acumen. A frequent writer and speaker, Roellig narrows his focus to three primary pieces of advice as he scans the horizon and thinks about what law practice may look like for current and aspiring leaders:

  • Be intentional about developing your leadership skills
  • Invest in your team
  • Care for your own well-being and the well-being of others


Develop your leadership skills

To Roellig, leadership is something that may be innate for some, but can be developed, honed, and evolved for most. “In a corporate setting, leadership involves the assembling, developing, focusing, and inspiring of others to effectively achieve objectives to advance the overall values, vision, mission, and strategy of the business,” says Roellig.

Leadership is your personal journey, and your ability to develop in this regard requires that you spend time knowing yourself and understanding what it might be like for others to experience working with you. More specifically, Roellig recommends three areas of focus for aspiring leaders:

  • Develop and share your personal leadership philosophy: Roellig’s leadership philosophy is centered on the value of teaming, and he spends much of his time creating the environment that empowers a strong team.
  • Invest in continual self-improvement: His vision for self-improvement encompasses building teamwork, emotional intelligence, communication, and strong listening skills. Of course, the competent attorney must know their technical field of expertise, but—says Roellig—they should also “be curious, interested, and open to learning about new ideas and different ways of thinking and exploring the what-ifs that present themselves in most business environments.”
  • Make DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) a priority: Roellig says, “Diversity and inclusion are the noun and the verb. You need both, and you must create inclusion through your actions, your words, and the culture you lead so that diversity of thoughts, opinions, ideas, and experiences can provide positive value to the team and to the enterprise.”

Invest in your team

“It is all about talent and teams—diverse teams, since you are only as good and successful as the company you keep,” says Roellig, which means that hiring, supporting, and engaging a strong team are critically important. “If you are the smartest person in the room, you have a weak team.” Roellig describes two options for leader and team dynamics: the hub-and-spoke model and the cloud model.

In hub-and-spoke, everything is tied to the center, to the leader. All issues are driven into the center, and orders are pushed down through the spokes. If the leader has an issue or a question, they reach out to the contact on that topic, obtain the information, and make a decision. Sometimes the necessary information is conveyed to others through the spokes, but sometimes it isn’t. To Roellig, this is a risky proposition because it concentrates too much control in one person and can create a bottleneck on decision-making or gaps in information.

The cloud model is more team-oriented; the team collectively decides which issues they own as a team, and decision-making on those issues is unbundled. One example could be talent. “The CFO should know who the high-potential talent in legal are, and the CLO should know the same in the finance function. Bonuses for direct reports for all cloud members should be discussed with the cloud team; this helps to establish parity in the organization and can help to diminish issues related to unconscious bias,” says Roellig. He has also used this model to handle important legal issues and significant litigation.

Roellig stresses that value of this model is that all decisions are made collectively, allowing the team to leverage its collective wisdom and enabling better decision-making. In this model, says Roellig, “it is important to listen. When smart people ask dumb questions, listen.”

Care for your own—and others’—well-being

Roellig’s advice on well-being stems from a career of high-demand, fast-paced corporate roles. This has been a leadership learning for him. He says he did not focus enough on this in his early leadership positions, and this was a mistake.

Roellig says that the importance of finding balance for yourself, and helping the individuals on your team do the same, cannot be overstated: “COVID-19 has reminded us of the dual imperatives of worker well-being and work transformation, but executives are still missing the importance of connecting the two. Organizations that integrate well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and organizational levels will build a sustainable future where workers can feel and perform at their best.”

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