Kilpatrick Townsend: Servant Leadership in Law

“The legal profession and big law in particular would benefit from broader adoption of the  principles of servant leadership.  There is great personal joy and satisfaction in helping others succeed.  Equally important, however, I believe servant leadership provides a competitive advantage to legal organizations.”

Henry Walker said that. And more.

Henry is chair of Kilpatrick Townsend, one of the world’s top law firms. Based in Atlanta, Kilpatrick Townsend has over 600 lawyers in 21 offices around the globe. Its clients include one-third of the Fortune 50 companies. 

Indeed, Kilpatrick Townsend proudly counts AT&T – Robert K. Greenleaf’s professional home of forty years – as one of its oldest clients.

Last month, Kilpatrick Townsend held a two-day retreat for key partners and clients. The title of the retreat would have made Bob Greenleaf smile:

 “Servant Leadership in Law”

Frank Blake, former CEO of The Home Depot, kicked off the affair with an intimate fireside chat. After his selection as CEO in 2007, Frank led a renewal of servant leadership at the retail giant. The Home Depot, like so many other great companies, was built on servant leadership principles. It was renowned for putting the “inverted pyramid” theory into practice.*

Henry then turned the conversation to servant leadership in the law firm context.

“The parallels between a healthy community and a healthy law firm are strikingly similar,” Henry said. In both, “there is a deep, consistent and prominent engagement by all. We care about each other. We help each other succeed.  We make individual sacrifices for the good of the whole. We all benefit from the good health of our whole community, not just our part.”

In short, Henry said, servant leadership can help Kilpatrick Townsend as it strives to serve clients, win cases and close deals. At the same time, servant leadership can help Kilpatrick Townsend be a healthy community, a great place to work and a positive force in the world.

Which led nicely to the remarks of Kali Beyah, Head of Global Talent Management at Delta Airlines, and Kilpatrick Townsend partner, Yendelela Holston. They had a conversation about talent and professional development – a distinctive priority of servant-leaders. In a conclusion relevant to all workplaces today, Kali and Yendelela agreed that great employers provide staff with professional growth, a sense of community and connection to a shared mission.**

To end the program, I joined Rev. George Maxwell, Vicar at the Cathedral of St. Philip (and former corporate law firm partner himself) to explore a distinctive servant leadership virtue – generosity. Lawyers and clients alike shared stories about generosity they had experienced from servant-leaders who influenced them.***

Interesting: During his chat, Frank told how he was mentored in his early Home Depot days by legendary GE chairman, Jack Welch. (Frank had been one of Jack Welch’s lieutenants at GE.) In the course of a mentoring session, Frank asked Jack to name the most important leadership trait. Jack’s answer:


Maybe the spirit of Bob Greenleaf moved from AT&T to Kilpatrick Townsend somehow in the long-ago past. I don’t know.  But I do know that, when a prominent organization like Kilpatrick Townsend publicly advocates servant leadership, servant-leaders everywhere should take notice.


* Indeed, when Frank was at the bottom of that pyramid, he valued others with extraordinary passion and energy. On weekends, Frank would write hundreds of hand-written notes to Home Depot employees letting them know how valuable they were to the organization. “You get what you measure,” Frank said. But more importantly, “You get what you celebrate.” 

Click here for more on the “Inverted Pyramid at The Home Depot.” 

** See what you think of this one: “Servant Leadership – 3 Workplace Priorities”

*** Here are two on generosity: 

“Servant-Leaders Give the Gift of Time”

“5 Ways Servant-Leaders are Generous with Power”