Maurice Blackburn Lawyers case study

Since commencing with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in 1984, Peter Koutsoukis has earned a reputation as a business builder and pioneer.

As a Senior Principal, he started the Queensland Maurice Blackburn business with just a single assistant in 1998. Today it has grown to 210 staff based in 12 offices across the state. In 2008, Peter also spearheaded the company’s expansion into litigation funding in Europe and North America.

Celebrating 30 years with the firm in 2014, Peter reflects that despite his professional acclaim, some of the proudest moments of his career have taken place in the last 12 months.


 


Peter’s story


“I have always been a strong litigator and good at earning for the business. I’ve also been able to pioneer some exciting initiatives for the business over the years and prove my capacity as a business builder. “And as I’ve been promoted through the firm, I now supervise nine offices around Queensland that employ 140 staff.

“But over time, it became apparent that the communication aspect of leadership was something I needed to improve. People management and difficult conversations were a real challenge for me. “I also found that I was only able to influence the company at the highest level in a minor way. I discovered I was regarded as inflexible and strident—‘Mr Black and White’.

“In March 2013, I enrolled in the Leadership Development Program (LDP)® through Melbourne Business School-Mt Eliza Executive Education. For me, it was about starting to work on my communication and finding a different way of doing things as a leader.”
 


“My life changed.”


“The program has had a dramatic impact on my professional life. It was all about leadership behaviour, communication and building resilience within myself. It suddenly opened my eyes about how to be a proper leader.

“I was able to relate the lessons so clearly to my workplace and I suddenly had this realisation about how I should have been leading all this time.

“I wish I’d had access to this learning and wisdom, the conversation techniques and understanding of how to behave as a leader 20 years ago. It would have made me a better leader earlier and I would have avoided many mistakes along the way.”
 


Truly listening


“I bought a pair of rubber ears to sit on my desk, which reminds me to be a better listener. Previously in a conversation, someone else’s talking time was just an opportunity for me to plan how I was going to respond, rather than taking in what they were saying and giving it the proper consideration it deserved. But I truly listen now; I’m careful not to pre-judge or make hasty decisions.

“This allows me to give feedback properly and I’m able to be a strong mentor. There’s huge power in saying, ‘I see what you’re saying, but have you considered this…’ rather than just saying straight out, ‘I think it’s this’. It’s a different way of responding and interacting.

“I am careful to use the right words—instead of berating someone for making a mistake, I work with them to gain confidence from learning. I’m giving instead of taking, which enables me to be a much more effective leader and mentor for our next generation of leaders.
 


The power of questions


“I’m now also capable of having those really hard people management conversations. Previously, I would have been a bundle of nerves and I’d find them so difficult because I wasn’t good at them.

“But there are some techniques I learnt to handle difficult conversations, and one of them is to learn the power of questions. Instead of going into hard one-on-one meetings with assertions, you start off by asking, ‘What’s your view on this?’ And usually, out spills confessions and concessions, and all those things that were going to be difficult to raise.

“Not only are the conversations working now, but people thank me at the end of it. Even when delivering really hard messages, people are thanking me for being honest, direct and empathetic. And this all just comes from learning how to do these things properly.

“It’s led to the most marvellous enhancement of my satisfaction in work.”
 


Immediate impact


“My professional life has changed completely. The company is now turning to me with the most challenging situations and saying, ‘You  fix it’. And I am! Through the power of conversation, I’m able to solve problems the company has found difficult to deal with.  I’m really proud that I’ve been able to achieve such amazing results.

“Since the program, I’ve become the National Equal Opportunity Principal and been appointed the Reporting Principal for HR for Queensland—it was unthinkable a few years ago.“There’s been an amazing turnaround in morale. Stakeholders at the highest level of the business are telling me they can see the transformation. They’ve commented on how I’ve become a much better listener and problem solver, and adding to my other talents this is making me a stronger leader. 
 
“Others have heard about the change. I’ve got people calling me from my old office in Victoria saying, ‘I’ve heard about the things you’re doing.’“It’s so much more satisfying to come to work and be achieving the things I was never able to achieve before. I look forward to doing the difficult things, because armed with these tools it’s invariably successful. I’m asking people to tell me what they think about everything and we can take it from there. It’s actually easy—when you know how.”