back icon
All Episodes

Melissa Shanahan

#222: The Learning Curve of Being a Better Leader: A Conversation with Tara Gronhovd and Pamela Nelson (Part 2)

Listen Now:

Last week, you heard part one of Melissa’s conversation with Tara Gronhovd and Pamela Nelson on the Grounding and Growing Leadership Podcast where they dove into the work of intentionality and implementation. On part two this week, they’re exploring what it means to shape a strong team dynamic, and the reality of what the work of becoming a better leader truly looks like. 

The work of leadership is humbling and hard, and it has been the steepest learning curve Melissa has experienced in business. There is no one-size-fits-all handbook for leadership that works for everyone. It’s a realm of constant learning and growing, and Melissa is letting you in on her journey of becoming a better leader.

Join Tara, Pamela, and Melissa on this episode to hear why doing the work of leadership and team facilitation is a game-changer, the wins that can come from committing your attention to this area of business, and the gift of partnering with a third party in guiding your leadership journey. 

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• The challenges Melissa has faced as a business owner.

• How leadership and team facilitation has been an important part of Melissa’s growth.

• When Melissa knew her leadership skill was something she needed to develop.

• The biggest realizations Melissa experienced in developing her leadership skills.

• Why leadership is the steepest learning curve you’ll experience.

• The wins and payoffs Melissa has seen since doing the work of team dynamics and leadership.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

Join Mastery Group

Join the waitlist for our next Monday Map Accelerator, a 5-day virtual deep-dive event.

Grounding and Growing Leadership Podcast

#221: Intentionality and Implementation: A Conversation with Tara Gronhovd and Pamela Nelson (Part 1)


The Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman

The Only Leaders Worth* Following by Tim Spiker

Enjoy the Show?

Leave me a review in Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you listen!

Full Episode Transcript:

Download Transcript PDF

I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #222.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast powered by Velocity Work for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone, we're back. This week, I am sharing with you Part 2 of the interview series that I did with Tara Gronhovd and Pamela Nelson on the Grounding and Growing Leadership podcast. They allowed me to republish here on The Law Firm Owner Podcast, which was super generous. I hope there is a nugget or two that you can take away from this episode.

One thing you'll hear in here, as I listened back, I realized how many times and how emphatic I was about how tough this journey has been with the learning curve on being a better leader. Really shaping a team that feels strong and healthy and the dynamics are strong. Not unicorns, and rainbows and a bunch of just all positivity. No, we work well together. We like working well together.

We enjoy delivering what we deliver to the clients, and really nailing that and fostering that. As you'll hear, I found that difficult. As I listened back, I was pretty reflective, listening, because this was over three months ago and man, we are in a different place. We are in a really good place with the team. It feels like something has clicked and is humming in a way that it hasn't prior.

Do I think there's room for improvement? Absolutely. Do I think I have more growing to do as a leader? Absolutely. But listening back to where I was, you'll hear me talking about fumbling around and how hard it felt. It really did feel that way then, and it doesn't feel the same now.

Partially, I share that because it's been a long road. Almost a year ago, I started this in coaching and having some workshops with team dynamics, etc., and it has changed the game. But it's taken this long for me to feel a sense of calm around it all. Knowing that there's more work to do, for sure. But I feel a peace of mind that I haven't felt ever before, when it comes to the team.

So, I thought I would share now a bit of an update, because since we've recorded this episode, everything in the episode is true, but time has passed and things have changed internally. It all feels really good. So, that's the current state of things here at Velocity Work. It doesn't undermine anything you're getting ready to hear here; it was all true.

Hopefully this conversation is, in the very least, entertaining and, at the very most, maybe there's a nugget or two. Whether it's wisdom from Tara or Pamela, or something I share on the podcast that landed with you in a certain way, I hope there's something great here for you and this adds to your week, this week.

Without further ado, here is the Part 2 conversation that I had on the Grounding and Growing Leadership podcast. Big thanks to Tara and Pamela for having me on the podcast. It was a blast to talk to them.

Tara Gronhovd: Welcome back, Melissa.

Melissa Shanahan: Thank you. Yeah, this is great. Part 2. Part 2,

Tara: There was so much more we knew we could talk to you about. For those of you who at who didn't get a chance to listen to our episode with Melissa a few weeks ago, please go back, find that episode, listen to it, you will not regret it. And you'll get some handy tips on how to fly.

Melissa is the founder of Velocity Work, working with law firms across the country. You've helped hundreds of law firms grow through your powerful frameworks for helping them gain clarity, for giving them a cadence of accountability and really coaching them towards success. You're also the host of The Law Firm Owner Podcast. You're an extremely effective coach. We are thrilled to have you back.

Melissa: Thank you so much. This is great.

Tara: So, Melissa, last time we were talking about the work that you do to help businesses grow. Where we ended up really going with that was talking about you’ve just got to put in the work. You have to have a plan, but then you have to work the plan and you really just need to figure it out. It can be hard to figure out what to do with your business. You, really, for the last couple of years, have been walking that out in your own business.

Melissa, you come along and you do strategic planning for other law firms and things, and help them walk through these quarterly, but who does this for you as you're growing your business? What has felt like it's been easy to implement? Then, what are some of the things that are challenges for you as a business owner?

Melissa: I know and trust how I think about people's businesses and how objective I can be, and so a third party matters to me. I'm on the hunt for someone who I really feel like can be that. We're getting closer. We've actually had some good solutions in the past. I hired a fractional COO last year about this time, and that was extremely helpful; someone I trusted and I knew; and I was right. It was very useful. It was a short-term contract; he was doing a lot of other things. And so, it made sense to just stop.

But how valuable facilitation is, and I know that. So, I'm always trying to figure that out for business growth, in general. My team has grown over the years, which is part of strategic planning, you plan for that, right? You plan to make certain hires and invest in that. It has grown, and not just necessarily the people that I have, but the roles have grown.

We have grown in terms of the number of people that we serve, and the methods of delivery, and all of that. One thing that stands out to me, we’re talking about facilitation, on the last episode we were talking about how I've been in a period of my life where it felt like I was fumbling around. It was learning and it was growing, but doesn't feel like clean learning in the middle of it. It feels like you are fumbling around trying to figure out what your next step is.

That was really hard. I don't necessarily want to go back to that. But we all are going to have those times in different areas of our life, and I'm in one right now with leadership and team. I know how to grow a business. But it's very hard and it feels slow, frustratingly slow, in terms of a learning curve.

For me, with being a great leader, I have enlisted you guys. You're the facilitator for this piece of something that feels like I'm fumbling around, and having you guys come in and be helpful with that and provide structure and peace. I'm so grateful for where I am and the ability to invest in that, and have you guys as a partner in that makes all the difference right now.

So, I don't know if I'm totally answering your question, or if it feels like I'm all over the place, but it really has been an important part of our growth and having facilitation with leadership and team, in particular. Because it’s not my forte. Why would it be? Definitely not, at the moment.

Tara: A lot of times, especially for entrepreneurs, people who are starting businesses, you get started because there's something in you that wants to create, and wants to project this exciting idea into the world and make it work. Those set of skills are sometimes different than our leadership abilities and skills. It's not that you don't have those abilities, it's just that they maybe haven't gotten the attention and development that they've needed.

I think that happens for individual contributors moving into leadership all the time. There's no handbook for this. It's not a process that you follow. It's a whole realm of learning and growing. Then it's a little bit personal to you, and it's certainly personal to the people you're leading. So, it's complex, for sure.

When did you know that leadership was something you needed to tackle or you needed to think about? When, in your business growth, did you start thinking about that?

Melissa: I have known since the beginning of this, and with my first assistant, that I need to tone it down. I need to be careful with my words. Because I move 100mph, and it feels hard for me to slow down and to tune in with other people. There's been a lot of back and forth in my head from the beginning, with the first person I hired.

And so, I have phases where I've been better at that. But there's phases where you're really good at it, you get it reined in, and you're really proud of yourself. There are phases where you're a little more unconscious, and you're just doing what you do. That's what it felt like with this. It was so hard, it felt hard for me to get around this connection piece with the people who worked with me.

I didn't feel disconnected. I felt neutral to me. But to the people who were working for me it was clear, at points, that like they do feel disconnected, and I did not know how to fix that system in a sustainable way, in a way I could build on. I knew how to fix it, to use willpower to fix it. But that only lasts so long.

So, I've known for a while that that's not been a strength of mine, and I really was surprised. Relator is in my top strengths. I thought that I can relate to anyone. That's been a gift since I was little. But when it comes to my team, it feels very different for some reason. It's always been an awareness for me, but as my team has grown, it gets louder and more and more in your face. Something needs to… I need help.

Tara: Most leaders do. Melissa, to be fair, your strengths… Relator and Individualization are your tough relationship building strength. That combination is highly insightful and intuitive around understanding people, so you do understand people. You have several high driving, intense themes; Achiever, Focus, Significance, Activator. So, you want to go, and you want to go now. And we all need to be running together.

It sounds like one of the challenges you've run into, is how do you get everyone running with you and at the same speed? Right?

Melissa: Yeah, that's a really good way to say that. Yeah, that clicks something for me in my head, when you said that. I was going to say that the top two strengths that you mentioned, I do think that I could snip it earlier than maybe someone who doesn't have those strengths in the top five.

I knew early on this is going to be hard. But I didn't know how to fix it, necessarily. I don't know if business owners that are listening to this can relate to this or not. But I believe that I could have figured it out if I had the space to give to it, and to think into that as being the main focus. That was not going to happen. I had my focus, my bandwidth, was taken up by growing this business and pushing at that.

So, that's why having someone like you guys as a partner takes the cognitive load away from me, from having to figure it out, having to try to become the expert.

Pamela Nelson: Yeah, oftentimes, as we've even met together with your team, we’ll use examples of a physical team or a track team, or getting that same sort of coaching that happens within the physical realm. As you're speaking, Melissa, in my mind, what came to the picture was a relay team. That passing of the baton, and the goal to be able to get to the end, and to have someone watching that handoff, and that preparation for the handoff for the next person to take it.

But ultimately, it's to win that prize and finish well, and go further faster. It's difficult to be able to observe yourself while you're in the race, and then to know how the other person is showing up. Because we show up as whole people.

I just love that you recognize, “My focus is here, I'm going to have a blind spot.” We all do. That's why they're called “blind spots,” for a reason. It may feel like, because of my strengths, I'm not understanding why this person in position three isn't able to take the handoff. Why is she always dropping the baton?

That shows up in a lot of different ways. And so, to have another set of eyes on how to do that in an effective way, is just a great way to bring in a partner.

Tara: I think what happens is, when we're running that race, and this is for every leader listening, you all, at different points, feel like you're running in a race.

Pamela: So, when you're running, it's really easy to think, “I do not have time to stop. I do not have time to run slower. I do not have time to turn around and figure this out.”

I use the quote all the time, “Low is smooth, and smooth is fast.” There are times, to get our teams running together, we have to go a little slower, so that we're all getting there together, so that it is smoother.

I'm curious, as you've been figuring this out, what has been the biggest learning or a-ha that you've had, since you've been doing some of this work around your own leadership?

Melissa: There's been a lot. One of the ones that's more recent, is realizing that my business is at a point where I literally cannot do it alone anymore. I don't know when we pass that. But I'm talking if I was going to work 80 hours a week, or 120 hours a week, which you know, I used to do. If I was going to work that much, still I wouldn't be able to do it. No one wants to work like that, and that's not going to work anyway.

But just to make my point, I don't know when that line got passed, but it's out of my hands a bit. The definition of trust, that I learned from you guys, from Charles Feltman’s book, “Choosing to trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person's actions.”

That threshold has been extremely difficult for me. I know certain people just have trouble delegating. No, I do not have trouble delegating, but I have a lot of anxiety around what comes with delegation. And so, I do delegate but there's a lot of anxiety around the results from that, and wanting the results to be the way that they should be. That's hard.

I have to redefine the way that they should be, and I have to, to some extent… Sometimes it is, this is exactly what it needs to look like. I haven't ever considered myself fully, for some reason, a perfectionist. But there's something there, where it's like knowing, accepting, that it's not going to be a very specific way, every single time, from every single person in your organization.

Being able to accept that, influence it in the way that I can influence it, and move on, has been really hard. I've had a realization, somewhat recently, in a workshop with you guys, that I have never, ever relied on anyone around me for anything important to get a specific result. I self-reliance entirely.

That has taken me quite far in life, but now I can't do that anymore. So, the winning strategy, I have scrap it and that feels very difficult, because it feels like fumbling in the dark. I don’t know how to do that. If I'm not the one pulling the levers to get the results I want to get, other people have the opportunity to do that, and it doesn't look the same way. It's not going to. It makes my insides spin.

Tara: Melissa, you're identifying something that I think is primal for a lot of leaders and a lot of small businesses. We get to the end of our own capacity, and we're a little surprised that we got there. Yeah, “What do you mean we're at the end of our capacity? I thought I could just keep going, just keep driving.”

Then, to build a team structure that will help you scale and sustain, in some ways, a completely different model and plan from what got you to where you are today. I'm sure that in the businesses you work with all the time, what got you here isn't the same thing that's going to get you to the end of this space. But it's not easy.

You have been incredibly courageous in the work that you've done and the work that you continue to do. You’ve stuck with it and I think that's really admirable. What has driven you to stick with it, regarding this work around leadership that is humbling and hard?

Melissa: Almost how painful it is to try to stick with my old way of operating. Because it is constant friction. It's relentless friction when I'm trying to hold the way that I've always operated before. Now, it doesn't work. So, I think the pain of experiencing that and feeling like I'm beating my head against a wall. It's okay, something has to shift. It is to do with the team; I don't know what I'm doing with the team.

I know how to be a nice person, but I don't know how to be a nice person and “Let's go! Everybody, run. Just move your feet faster.” That's what I want to say, “And don't trip.” It's not that easy. My solution is to turn around and look at people, and just be like, “One foot in front of the other… Just faster, though.” That's not how people work.

Tara: I think a lot of people expect to learn about leadership… Pamela and I run into this all the time. They want a set of skills and boxes to check off. When have I graduated from this leadership thing? When will I start seeing results? They want a timeline, but it really is pretty unique to each person.

And so, you talk about the principles for the work that you do, in strategic planning. There are a lot of principles we use, but we're bringing in different ones at different times to meet people where they're at. And so, there isn't just this handy guideline that you can follow.

Yeah, I just want to honor too, Melissa, the fact that you are living in that tension. Of seeing and hearing people well, and yet also challenging them to take that, and not to coddle them in the things that are challenging for them at work or personally. But then also to maintain that growth mindset for them, as well as you. I think you do that with your vulnerability.

By saying, “Hey, I'm also learning in this space about how to be a better leader. And so, I'm not always going to do that perfectly. But as I'm challenging myself to live in that tension, I need to be seen and safe and given permission to learn as I go as a leader.

I'm also going to challenge you, team, that we hold this space of tension. Of yes, it is challenging, and yes, we do see things differently. But ultimately, that doesn't make me good and you bad. It just means that in this space, we have to decide what is going to give us the best solution and the best outcome.

And honor that sometimes, in the tension, that means you go the way that I'm asking you to. Where I've listened to you in that space, and you know what? You're right. The way that I've always done it isn't going to get us there. In that handoff of the baton, I'm going to give that to you and I'm going to champion you to do it your way. We’ll live in that tension until it actually starts to feel like we're doing this without even thinking.”

I just want to honor that tension, and that space, that leaders live in, of hearing and seeing, and yet, also challenging that we have to take those next steps. I do need to see and measure that’s happening.

Melissa: “Tension” is such a perfect word. I'm very visual. Maybe it’s the right brain does this; I conjure up images. Images happen as people are talking. It feels like, where I am with all this… You said, what keeps me going? There's a wide path that I've always been on, and I'm just in that flow. It feels like a flow. And I have an opportunity to veer right into a wormhole, and that's what I'm doing.

I am going into the wormhole and I'm going to come out the other side. The only reason I think this image exists for me in my brain is because, “Oh, we've been here before, just with different areas of life.” To get to the other side, you got to go through this passage of learning, and it's deep. And it doesn't have to be all consuming. But there's something about it. I do not like that feeling, it's tension. I don't enjoy it at all. I don't know if people do or if nobody does. I do not enjoy this.

I enjoy getting better at something. But it is painfully slow. Even though I've put so much time and focus and inquiry around all of this. I can't believe it's not further.

Tara: I want to say that's the process of the planting seeds, of doing something and seeing something in a new way. It has to push up through a lot of crap. So you see the seed actually implementing. It's like a pulling back, like a pulling back on a racket, a tennis racket. Because you need that momentum while you're moving forward, and you're busy.

But there's a place, as a leader, that you have to take your team, and pull back to be able to release, to go further, faster. That's where you're at.

Melissa: Yeah, and I don't know what the other end… It’s not like we're ever done. I don't think I'm ever done learning. But the learning curve feels so steep right now, and I'm shocked by it. I really am. I'm shocked by it. The only other times I felt like this are the one I’ve talked about before in the episode, and after having a child, that's the other one.

You feel like you're in a wormhole. That learning curve is the steepest learning curve I have ever been. You get through it. And you're like, “Oh, I can't wait to get to a place where feel like oh, here we are. We still a lot of learning to do. But oh, okay, here we are.”

Tara: You'll get through it when you’re a grandma. When you get to do it over again. I always say leadership is the most humbling thing you can do. And, I have three kids. So yeah, leadership is humbling, if you're going to do it well. Because it requires us to show up vulnerable and willing to learn, but also trying to hit goals. There are measures of success that, in business, we have to hit. We don't just get to show up.

So, we have the work of our business. Plus, we have this extra work, in terms of leadership. And it's really easy, you've seen them, Melissa, leaders, all the time, who just opt out of that. Often, they're confused about why they aren't making progress, or they don't care about culture, and they just create a toxic workplace where they're okay with the impact that they're having on people's lives. They're okay, that impact isn't positive.

You have a set of core values that you operate by that also keeps you accountable to the kind of workplace you want to be. Which is one of the reasons I know that you do this work, because you could operate differently and burn through more people.

Melissa: Or I could scale back, stay smaller. I think about that a lot. I don't have judgment on it, everybody has a right to make the call that feels right to them. And it does depend on your values, right? There's something stacked in me about my values, it would feel wrong, like out of integrity to scale back my business, because I can't figure this out.

And for some people, I can see why that would be a choice, it feels really good and healthy. And because the situation is different, the values are different, whatever. So, this really is not to say that this is what people should do, or I think that people should line up like this.

But for me, my business is growing and I can meet it. And I can like honor that and do the work that it takes to allow that to keep unfolding. Or I can cap it and keep it small. Because really truly, the only thing between me and like, where this is going is a team that allows all of it to happen. So, I guess I could put a governor on my business, so to speak; a client used that with me. On a car, you have a governor that doesn't allow the speed to go past a certain speed limit.

It's really important to me to do what it takes and cover the gap of learning and knowledge and experience to be able to allow this company to be what it's trying to blossom into, and it doesn't feel like an option to me. I heard a really well-known coach one time talking about her business. And she was like, “I was going to go for a million, but I just don't want what comes with that.” And I was like, oh, wait, what?

That doesn't feel like a healthy thing to put out into the world. That there's all these assumptions that it has to look a certain way. What if it can be really beautiful and you just have to figure some things out?

Tara: Yeah. And you've had some beautiful moments with your team since you’ve started doing this work. You've had some incredible points of connection. And your team also, I should say for the audience, is 100% remote. So, there's some additional challenges of getting everyone on the same page when they're remote. And some of them are fractional or part time.

You're doing really intentional work in some circumstances where part of the lift is a little heavier, because you've got some circumstances you have to overcome with that. And you've recently seen some wins from it too, right? You’ve recently seen some of that payoff, and where you're starting to make some progress in areas where I would say a few months ago, you were like, “Is this ever going to move?”

Melissa: Yeah, oh, a couple months ago, a few months ago, I was definitely thinking maybe we do just shut this down. Just because of how hard, and just how steep the learning curve feels. It feels overwhelming at times, because everything is moving really fast in business. It's not like we get to push pause and work on a team. That is not how this works.

You're working on the team and leadership, and trying to handle the influx that's coming in. There's a part of me that was just like, “Maybe we should just…”

Tara: Growing; growing can feel like drowning, right?

Melissa: Yes.

Tara: I would just say, in the spirit of actionable learning for everybody, if you feel stuck, first of all, we don't often take note of the progress we have made. When we see that the mountain is steep, we don't look back to see how far we've come up. And so, this week, if you're listening, just take a minute and jot down and reflect on how far you have come.

Because your work is paying off. It just sometimes gets overwhelming to look at the peak and realize that we've got a ways to go.

Melissa: Also, in the spirit of actionables… I tell everyone about you guys. And you talking about actionable, things that you can do. If you have the ability to grab hold of a partner that can help illuminate certain things, and offer knowledge and experience in ways that it's going to take a long time, and it will be arduous to figure that out on your own, do it.

I wish I would have known you guys sooner. And it's just been such a gift. I truly do not know where I would be, or my company would be, without you guys.

Tara: Thank you so much, Melissa. If you're wondering around actionables, things that we've talked to Melissa about and others, it's conversations around trust, around becoming aware of who we are actually becoming, that as a leader we go further faster when we aren't just about ticking the boxes, but about growing the “who” of people.

One of the resources that we use, a former guest that we had on here is Tim Spiker. He has a wonderful book called "The Only Leaders Worth* Following", and it's this concept of being inwardly sound and others focused. This inwardly sound conversation leads us to many different places.

And if there are things we're holding back, if we're detaching or if we're self-protecting, and we can't be vulnerable within my team, then we are not working effectively together. But when we have the conversations, bring it into the light in a safe, secure place, and become inwardly sound, just watch out for what can happen. Melissa, thank you so much for being with us today. We have loved this conversation.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Latest Episodes