Leading from the Front with Mark Stanley at Stanley Law Group

Leadership is full of platitudes. Leading from the front is one that makes a ton of sense. Today’s guest is Mark Stanley, Attorney at Law at The Stanley Law Group. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1773 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. The Stanley Law Group has been representing clients in and around Columbia, South Carolina, since 1990. Mark shares his viewpoint on leading from the front and why it matters. We dive into the conversation on leadership that he learned when his father began to step aside. Discover how leading from the front will help you grow your business.

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Mark Stanley: The Transcript

About: Mark Stanley, born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, Mr. Stanley attended the University of South Carolina where he received his B.S. in Business Administration. While attending the University of South Carolina, Mr. Stanley was the captain of the South Carolina baseball team that went to 3 straight College World Series. Upon completing his Bachelor’s degree, Mr. Stanley earned a Master’s in Business Administration and a Master’s in Information Science from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. Following the completion of his Master’s degree in 2010, Mr. Stanley attended law school at Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, Florida, where he received his Juris Doctorate.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Mark Stanley: [00:00:00] If you, if you get good people and you treat them well and you let them do what they do and allow them to have that sort of, that latitude, they’re going to be happy. They’re going to be here. And if they particularly, they understand the why of what you’re doing. I did a talk on this cycle on a bar a little over a week ago, and, making sure that you keep explaining the why. If you keep explaining the why people won’t care about the what they’re going to do, the what because they understand the why.

Introduction: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Today we’re going to look at leading by example. When you think about leading by example, what does that mean? Well, one of the things that I want you to think about this is, it really is about leading from the front. It’s not about you telling your people what to do, but it’s about leading from the front of the, [00:01:00] why the company’s in business, why, who we’re here to serve and all of the things that come from leading in the front. There’s a huge benefit to it, which is your company will grow faster. Hopefully, that’s a given because you’re listening to this podcast because that’s what we sent her, this, these conversations around. But our special guest today is Mark Stanley. He is with Stanley, law group, and Stanley law group out of South Carolina is got a lot of different areas of law that they concentrate on. But, and he is talking about a family-owned business that he stepped in and had to lead from the front, what that really meant he had to talk to, and change the strategy of this and to think differently and leading from the front is really the core central part of this entire interview with Mark. Now, before you get there, I want to ask you one question. If you want to grow your business to the next level, are you aware of the blind spots? Well, I know it’s a trick question because I know that you’re not, we all have blind spots. I have them, you have them, your people have them and you can’t be aware of your blind spots because it wouldn’t be a blind spot.

It’s [00:02:00] something that is getting in the way of the way you’re leading the way the company is growing. And again, we all have them. So when you understand what your blind spot is, when you really have a chance to go through a process where you’re talking to someone that is experienced in identifying it and helping you see what you can’t see, then you have a much better chance to address this. Otherwise, it’s just kind of hit and miss over time, and maybe you will address it. Maybe you won’t, but the quicker you address the blind spot and understand it, the more likely you can grow your business. I share this with you. My job is to help you become a stronger leader. Be more powerful, grow your company, and we all have to address the blind spots. I want to help you with yours. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call inside that. We’ll look at your business. We’ll look at what’s going well. What’s getting in the way and identify your blind spots and create a plan for this. No, I’m not saying that we’re going to work together, but I do want to make sure that I am giving the highest value to those people that trust in me and take the time to actually go [00:03:00] through this process with me, because it takes about an hour for us to, to have that first call. I’m not trying to sell you anything or enroll you in anything, but to truly give you a plan of attack, plan to move forward, a plan to be a stronger leader integrator company by identifying what’s getting in the way, and this is what I’m known for inside of all of my work. So if I can help you in any way, make sure you go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. Now here’s the interview with Mark,

Gene Hammett: Mark, how are you?

Mark Stanley: Doing wonderful, Gene. How about yourself?

Gene Hammett: Fantastic. We’re going to have a great conversation about the culture of your company. Tell us first about Stanley logger.

Mark Stanley: Well, we’re a law firm that was founded in 1990 by my dad, Ron Stanley. He was partners with another guy beforehand and then opened this business in 1990. We were, picking street until 2000, and then we moved into the building that we’re in currently here today, 2000 until we’ve done has been on for 22 years and primarily been focusing on personal injury law and some real estate, some probate work. What I do on a day-to-day basis is [00:04:00] personal injury work.

Gene Hammett: Perfect. I’m really glad you had a chance to talk with me. Cause I know making the inc list is impressive for a lot of companies that it’s not easy to do consistently, but you guys have been around for a long time and you had tremendous growth. 258% and a three-year period telling us a little bit about what impacted that level of growth.

Mark Stanley: A couple of different things. Just a, reshaping of how we were thinking. I actually came into the firm and I told her in 2016, I started practicing law in Florida and went to law school in Florida, and started practicing in Florida. Before I moved back to South Carolina. My background is in business and marketing. I’ve got an undergraduate in business, a master’s in business, marketing management, and finance. And so when I went to law school, I had this understanding of, of what we want to do, where we wanted to go from a business perspective. And so when I got back here to South Carolina, we actually deploy that plan. And that’s how we got to where we are today.

Gene Hammett: I got a dive to the deeper of [00:05:00] that cause changing the way we think. It could be a lot of different things. What, what actually changed in the way you thought,

Mark Stanley: Well, how you want your business to work, and how you want your business to be structured? My dad had worked and worked and worked. My dad would coach our baseball team and when I was growing up and, but he would never be able to coach the all-star team. And so we all. Why, why would he not be able to do that? It was because he could not continue to be out of his office for an extended period of time. Well, when I got a little older, I didn’t understand it until I got older until I got into the practice of law and started to realize how much time it would take, Run the business that he was running. And so what we, what I wanted the design to be is where the business can sometimes be on autopilot without me actually being here all the time. And so we wanted to make sure we had a different design and implement a different design that would allow me to do that all while having exponential growth.

Gene Hammett: I know a big part of that has to be the people of the business. So tell me a little bit about how you look at the [00:06:00] people and the culture of Stanley Law Group.

Mark Stanley: Well, people, organizations are made up of people and it is the number one capital that we have here, finding, you know, most people say. Hire slow and fire fast. That is the old mantra. We don’t look at it that way. We look at making sure that you have the right fit, that it’s very difficult to do these days when you got this COVID issue that was out there. We have had some growing pains and trying to hire the right individuals. I’ve interviewed lots of people for the various positions that we have established here and the ones that we do have open. So making sure that you have, an individual who has a customer service background and the one, two people who actually fit into the family that we do have here. This business is, my dad, myself, my cousin and my wife works in here and my mom works in here, which they, she did work with him before she retired. And then we’ve got. Another lawyer in here who was almost like my sister. So it’s very much [00:07:00] a family atmosphere.

Commentary: Mark’s been talking about people as the number one capital. Now, do you really believe that your people in your company are the number one asset in your company? Well, one of the impossible questions I ask of many of the people that have been on the show before, and the conversation I have is this one. And it’s this question that really kind of highlights where you are as a leader. And the question goes like this as a leader of a fast growth company, what’s more important your customers or your employees. Well, if you are sort of old school, you’ll say customers, and that that’s really not a bad place for you because you know, we know that the customers pay the bills. But if you say people in 93% of the CEOs from the Inc level companies say, it’s the people, because the people are the most important asset of the company, they approach their people differently. They create a space that where people feel meaningful work and they feel taken care of. They feel appreciated and heard, and that means that the customers are willing to feel appreciated and heard and all of the things that happen there. But there’s a [00:08:00] sequence to this thing. If the leaders put customers first and clients first, it just signals to the employee that it’s not, something’s a little off. Now you may not quite understand this, but I’ve put a spotlight on this today for you, because if you’re leading from the front, you want to make sure that you’re leading from the front means you’re taking care of employees so that employees can take care of the customers that you’re bringing onboard your business. I see this the way I see it working. And I know it worked for many, many others. Back to Mark.

Gene Hammett: Now I know some people refer to their business family, but this is, this sounds like truly family.

Mark Stanley: It is like we’re literally related, the people who are, who also work in here. The ones who are not by blood or close family, they are like our vill. We go and do stuff together. For instance, we are sponsoring the Columbia food and wine festival for the second year in a row. And, we’ve gotten tickets for all of us to go and enjoy. And, we expect everyone to attend.

Gene Hammett: I want to go to something you said mark, because I think it’s a mantra that a lot of people try to live by, [00:09:00] which is hire slow and fire fast. But you said that that’s not the way. And I, and I get, you don’t want a fire, dad, you don’t want a fire mom. But is there something more to that.

Mark Stanley: Well, yeah. So when you, we don’t like a revolving door. That’s one thing that we, I have tried to avoid. Now obviously when you are trying to scale your business and grow it at a pace that we have grown, you have issues where. Someone doesn’t make it necessarily. And so you have to figure out a different way of, of how you’re going to approach things. So, number one, we would always do our work through case manage. Well, we broke up the position, added legal assistance to support the case managers. For instance, the other side is making sure that you’ve got personalities that mesh making sure that people are. Are self-starters, and making sure that people can play well in the sandbox with others.

Gene Hammett: Well, I get the fact that you probably still hire slow, cause you want to make sure you got the right fit. But I guess I want to zero in on this. Are you not firing fast? Are you [00:10:00] giving people a little bit more space? Because you did take care to make sure they’re in the right position. Maybe moving them around a little bit. How does that work in your world?

Mark Stanley: We are making sure that people are in the right pace. That way we don’t have to fire. And what we, what we found is, crafting, I guess crafting the job posting. And making sure that we pay more than what the, or at least try to pay a little bit more than what the market says that you should pay, which will attract a different level of an individual. And making sure that, you know, you understand their strengths and weaknesses to make sure that you can keep them in those positions.

Gene Hammett: Now. I was just having this conversation with a client of mine the other day. So I want to make sure that I understand what you’re saying, paying more than the market. Do you have some rules of thumb that you go by? We’re not looking for exact numbers and whatnot, but just like things that you try to do to make sure that you’re getting that extra quality person to apply.

Mark Stanley: Well, the, the job posting, for instance, one of the job posts we put out, we put [00:11:00] in there, at all capital letters looking for a superstar legal assistant. All right. And we will look at what the data says with respect to what other law firms are doing. And in south Caroline, And I, and I have a little bit of experience with Florida because I used to work down there. So we’ll look and compare what the two states are doing and try to pay somewhere, in the same realm of what those two states are doing. Okay. And that’s to try to retain the talent that we’ve attracted and retain the talent. And then we give bonuses obviously as well.

Gene Hammett: Attracting the best people to the role. I know a lot of people go that well, that’s common sense, but why is it you’re really looking for a superstar to come into your company?

Mark Stanley: It takes a special person to work here. The reason, reason I say that is that we do the way we handle things. It’s very unconventional. For instance, I have an expectation that my [00:12:00] case managers will be able to do everything. All right. Outside of trying cases and outside of taking depositions and the stuff that Moyers are doing on a day-to-day basis, I expect them to be able to do everything underneath the sun. They’re a complete extension of me. So it takes a special person to be able to deal with irate clients and to be able to handle the, the paperwork and to be able to support us at trial. The last case that we had, was in front of judge Misael Childs, who was one of the three judges that was up for when Biden had his, the latest nominee for the Supreme court. And that trial, it taught us a lot about what we do and why we do things because our case manager was at trial and was kind of running the show at trial to,

Gene Hammett: I see the smile on your face, I mean, is, is part of the strategy for your growing company is to make sure you’re always hiring the best and then you’re treating them like family. Is that kind of the [00:13:00] formula you guys have?

Mark Stanley: That’s right. That’s right. If you, if you get good people and you treat them well and you let them do what they do and allow them to have that sort of, that latitude, they’re going to be happy. They’re going to be here. And if they particularly, they understand the why of what you’re doing. I did a talk on this at cycle, on a bar a little over a week ago. And, making sure that you keep explaining the why, if you keep explaining the why. People won’t care about the, what they’re going to do. The what? Because they understand the why,

Gene Hammett: what is the why of the Stanley law group,

Mark Stanley: the why is the client that’s the, why? The, why is the client? And making sure that we satisfy the client’s needs. When a client comes to us, they have a problem. They are injured through no fault of their own. They have gotten medical bills. That are piling up. They’ve got regular bills that are piling up. They’re in pain. They can’t work. Some of them don’t have health insurance. We, we’ve got to figure out a way for our clients to get what they need quickly and [00:14:00] to make sure that they get a resolution to their case quickly.

Gene Hammett: I got something to play in my head here, and I got to ask you, your dad still works there. I’m not sure who’s running the day-to-day. Are you running the day-to-day now or is it still him?

Mark Stanley: I’m running the day-to-day for the most part. And the personal injury department that does a, we’ve got a different arm of the business now, which has mediation. So we own two buildings and he’s in the building across the street where he basically served as a mediator between the party. He has done defense work, he’s done, plaintiff’s work, which is what I do on a day-to-day basis. So he’s got a unique perspective on how to help people push towards. So he’s not doing any of the personal injury stuff that I’m doing day to day. So I’m, I’m basically running on a day-to-day basis.

Gene Hammett: So that sets the frame for this. And here’s the real question, mark. What happens when there’s a difference in leadership style that you are the young blood coming in? So we’re going to think differently. We’re going to do things differently. Did dad resist that or he embraced that? [00:15:00]

Mark Stanley: That’s a good question. So when we first got back here, there was a difference in leadership style and, the marketing, what, what I want to do marketing-wise, let’s put it this way. He was not on board. All right. Dad has been, the old way of, of practicing law is as you’re running your business from a word of mouth standpoint, we didn’t have a, we didn’t even have a website when I got back here in 2016. So we have, when we first started doing stuff, he was like, Hey, you know, our budget is exploding in a different direction here, so I’m not so sure about. And he was really against doing billboards. Didn’t want to do one. And I did it anyway, did anyway, and took just took a risk and bet on myself. And here we are today.

Commentary: So Mark just share the story of where he disagreed with his father, about an approach to grow the business and expenses for growing revenue hadn’t caught up yet. And we’ve probably all been in this situation [00:16:00] before. My hope is if you’re leading from the front that you’re willing to take risk, you’re willing to see opportunities that others can’t see, and you’re willing to stake a claim on that. Now here’s a interesting story that will help you frame this in. I had a Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot on the show before, and he worked for the amazing Jack Welch and Jack Welch was known for being a difficult boss or leader. And he, but he wasn’t. He had a lot of control around the things he was doing. When I say that here’s one story that Frank shared with me, he goes, you know what Jack wanted you to do was to get the job done. And it was okay if you disagreed with Jack, but here’s the thing. You better not be wrong. You’ve got to put forth all of your efforts. If you decide to go against the leader and decide to do something that they wanted to get done in a different way and he shared this story with me on the podcast many, many months ago. And I share it with you to today because you want to make sure it’s okay if your employees disagree with you, but you want them to have the kind of [00:17:00] ownership that really drives them to make this right, make, make whatever approach or strategy that they’ve decided to invest in on where the risks they decided. Did it actually does work this story, I think shares a lot. It means mark inside his own world had to go against his father who was running the firm at the time to be able to create a new marketing strategy. That’s clear, but also, in your role as a leader, are you willing to give people the space to be, to disagree with you, but also encourage them, inspire them to do whatever it takes to make their way right. And give them the credit for that. That’s strong leadership and that’s leading from the front and back to Mark.

Gene Hammett: So it worked out. Your marketing strategies ended up getting new business. And then all of a sudden those concerns of budget going up fatal

Mark Stanley: faded away immediately. Our biggest issue now is not marketing is case expense. So which means that the size of your cases has gone up tenfold because your case expense is more than your other stuff. [00:18:00]

Gene Hammett: I want to begin to, to bring us home here. We started this with about growing the company fast. We talked about the people we’ve talked about the culture being a family culture. I don’t know if we’ve really hit that well. But you, you really are family. I know you’ve got a few kinds of like sisters and probably like brothers around there. Why does that work for you guys? And do you see it continuing to work as the company grows to that next level?

Mark Stanley: There’s a trust factor. When you got those types of individuals in your organization, there’s, you don’t have to run behind people doing this. You already know that they are doing what they should be doing. That’s the biggest thing and a family you have trust. I’ve got brothers, you know, you, you trust that they’re doing what they’re saying they’re doing. And that is, worked out very well for us. Trust is key. And business in particular,

Gene Hammett: what would you say your style of leadership is as you’re trying to align people together to, to the big why, but also, you know, they’re having to work hard. They’re having [00:19:00] to work longer hours to take care of the clients and the workload. What is your leadership style that plays a dominant role in your success?

Mark Stanley: I’m very hands-on, I’m the one that’s out front. And, I try to leave from the, from the front I’m here early. I stayed late and, on the weekends, I, I never stopped. I work, in that sense where I am the one who. Who was out front. I’d tell our staff, if it was done, right. It’s because you did it right. If it was done wrong, it’s my fault. So you will get the I’m out front, but you get the glory for everything that, that goes right. And if it goes wrong, it’s because it’s all my fault because the buck stops here.

Gene Hammett: You know, that’s, one of the lessons that’s hard for a lot of new leaders to learn about who gets the glory and who takes the blame, and entrepreneurs seem to get it. How did you get that? That’s an important way to lead, where you give glory to the team for all the successes. If something goes wrong, you accept the blame. Where did you learn that?

Mark Stanley: I played baseball, at the [00:20:00] university of South Carolina and coach Ray Tanner was my coach. He’s not an athletic director and that’s one of the things I learned by play baseball. You’re going to have High. You’re going to have lows and, but it’s all about the team and about doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And if everything goes right, Coach used to always tell us, you know, and I’ll just use his example. It’s kind of really, I got it from is that, if a, if there was a ball in the dirt and you’re all first base, as soon as the ball hit the dirt, you should be taken off second base. And if you could, the percentages are in your favor. And if you get thrown out, even say, it’s my fault because I told you to go. So that’s kind of the way you can’t have it both ways, you know? And that’s the way I choose to have it is that if it went right it’s because you guys did what you’re supposed to be doing.

Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you being here, sharing your wisdom and insight about leadership and growing your company. Thanks, Mark.

Mark Stanley: Thanks, Gene. I appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: My job is always to reflect back what you’ve heard from today’s episode. And what we’ve been talking about is the culture that makes the [00:21:00] company grow. Now. Family culture is great for companies that are under 20 employees. It starts to break down as it gets a little bit bigger and just, it happens. Now, if you’re there all your family, then it’s going to be a little bit different. But, you do want to make sure you are hiring the right people. You want to make sure you’re really getting them to take ownership and you are developing them the right way. I love the fact that you’re not firing a fast. You know, some people need to be moved in into a different position. They need a little bit more patience. Now I know that that doesn’t mean everyone gets to an unlimited pass because that wouldn’t be great leadership either, but you want to make sure that you’re building a place that people are proud of and really love to come to work too.

It sounds like that’s what we have here with Mark’s company. The. Stanley law group. If you are a leader that looks to take things to that next level, then my job is to help you figure out what’s getting in your way and how to move and navigate through that. Whether it’s growing your company or being a more powerful leader. If you have any questions about that, just go to GeneHammett.com you can schedule a call with me. I’d love to talk to you about what’s going on, help you figure out your path forward. When you [00:22:00] think about growth, you think about leadership. Think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead courage we’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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