Sheryl Sanford: “Trust your employees.”

Trust your employees to do the job they have been hired to do. If you micro-manage, or simply do it yourself, it impedes growth and learning from experience. In our industry, with the exception of missing hard deadlines, mistakes can be fixed. If our employees make a mistake, we work together to fix it and […]

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Trust your employees to do the job they have been hired to do. If you micro-manage, or simply do it yourself, it impedes growth and learning from experience. In our industry, with the exception of missing hard deadlines, mistakes can be fixed. If our employees make a mistake, we work together to fix it and we all learn from mistakes

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheryl Sanford of Black, Marjieh & Sanford. Black Marjieh & Sanford is a metro New York-based law firm focused on insurance defense and coverage, construction law, cyber risk, privacy and data security, real estate, commercial litigation, immigration law and related practice areas. Their team of seasoned attorneys acts as tireless advocates for their clients and decades of combined experience and knowledge inform strategies that drive successful outcomes. With a results-focused, cost-conscious approach, they are dedicated to creating meaningful and long-term client partnerships.

Thank you for joining us Sheryl! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

About a year after we opened the firm, one of our attorneys invited us to his son’s first birthday party. At the party, the attorney’s father pulled us to the side to thank us for providing his son with the opportunity to work at a place he enjoys so much and one that allows him the time to be with his family and watch his son grow. As three working moms, my partners and I understand the importance of this sentiment, which is so difficult to find in the legal profession. It meant so much to us to hear this from our attorney’s father as this was exactly what we wanted to be woven into the fabric of our firm — a real balance of working hard and also connecting with your family.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As a law firm, we are involved in some very interesting charity events. We partnered with the American Heart Association who is sponsoring a “Cycle Nation” charity event which brings awareness to heart-related issues by promoting exercise to those who may not exercise on a daily basis. We are so excited to help raise money as a team, but I absolutely love spin classes, so it will be an exciting event.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Many people will stay at a job where they are comfortable and are afraid to make a move. Times are changing and technology is changing. Employers that are not changing with the times, open to new technology, fresh new perspectives and the concept of working from home, will become obsolete and will not be able to retain top talent.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Unhappy employees are not productive. A negative vibe impacts everyone around you. All employees need a mental break for their own health and well-being which directly impacts those around them. We truly believe that a happy workforce will impact productivity which, in turn, will impact profitability because those employees who are happy and feel appreciated will want to take that extra step. We prominently hang a sign on our wall quoting Richard Branson, “Clients do not come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Trust your employees to do the job they have been hired to do. If you micro-manage, or simply do it yourself, it impedes growth and learning from experience. In our industry, with the exception of missing hard deadlines, mistakes can be fixed. If our employees make a mistake, we work together to fix it and we all learn from mistakes. As an example, one of our attorneys recently had an oral argument in the Appellate Division. We all worked together to help him with his presentation and the questions he might be asked. Unbeknownst to him, a few of us (which turned into a large crowd) watched the argument on a live stream and cheered him on! He did a great job!

Seeking the advice and input of your employees is important. A great leader should not pretend to know everything and should not be afraid to ask those they work with for their input or advice. In making decisions, we are constantly putting ourselves in the shoes of our employees. As opposed to assuming, it does not hurt to just ask the question, “what do you think about ???” or “how do you feel about?”

Express appreciation. “Thank you” goes a long way. I’ve worked many jobs throughout my career from working at a supermarket for 11 years to working in a video store, catering hall and a drug store through college and law school. I worked at the supermarket until I graduated from law school because the owners of the supermarket made me feel appreciated.

Don’t be afraid to apologize. Managers and executives should not be afraid to admit when they make a mistake. An apology can go a long way. Most importantly, a good manager will give credit where credit is due. Everyone loves to be praised and acknowledged when they do a good job. We make a point of acknowledging the successes of everyone on the team and highlighting that to our clients. They already know we are great lawyers, so it’s our job to make sure they know our entire team is responsible for our success.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

We lead by example. The more companies who see our success and implement employee-first initiatives, the more others will follow suit.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I believe that great leaders are not the best at everything. That is where team effort comes together. Great leaders find people who are the best at different things and get them to collaborate freely. Leadership is not about being the best or better than anyone else, it’s about teamwork and acknowledging each other’s strengths and weaknesses. By way of example, we have attorneys in our office who are fantastic trial attorneys and others who are better at writing. We acknowledge people’s strengths and support their weaknesses by providing training. We emphasize that every case is a team effort, from the paralegals who help put the motions together, to the associates who assist the trial attorneys at trial. When we have a win in our office, it’s a group effort by everyone involved.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is funny that you should ask that. As a law student, Lisa Black, one of our founding partners, was my mentor. As an attorney at our prior firm, I was Dana Marjieh’s mentor (the third founder). It may sound cliché, but I think the three of us learn from each other and we are grateful for one another.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our motto is to pay it forward. Our firm is involved in various charities and have closed our office to participate in charity events. We work with the local law school and bar associations in mentoring young law students. From charitable events to mentoring and teaching young law students, we think it is extremely important to remember why we started this firm and pay it forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “everything happens for a reason.” I have this quote on a necklace to remind myself that even when it seems like something bad happens and you cannot understand why, I remind myself that everything happens for a reason. It may not make sense right now, it will make sense later. I have followed this motto my entire life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be the pay it forward movement. Kindness is inspiring!

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