Business success in professional service firms is largely dependent upon the quality of execution and therefore the capability of key individuals within the firm. The most successful firms understand that developing their people faster and more effectively than their competitors will provide them with a competitive advantage.
At PSFI we are very clear that leadership is both different and harder within a professional service firm (PSF) than a corporate environment. Leading Partners is an inherently “political” process, within which understanding and working with context is absolutely key.
We believe that leadership is not a title, but a role in which you have the opportunity to build a strong culture and provide your followers with a sense of purpose. Successful leaders take the time to think about, listen to and really engage with their people, “setting the tone” for their firm (or practice) by the way they act. The best leaders see the impact that leadership has on their teams, in terms of performance and engagement, as well as the all-important bottom line.
We would also contend that leadership is getting more challenging and becoming more important. Leaders in firms today are facing a big choice about evolution or revolution, and many feel ill-equipped to deal with the choice. The best (a few) build capability as they see it as a personal mission. However most will struggle, not with strategy, but with implementing their strategy through other Partners and the wider firm – this is the area where Leadership is critical to a firm’s success.
Furthermore, many Partners (irrespective of title) are not leaders. They are managers and struggle to find the time to lead. We have discovered that the larger the organisation, the less there are opportunities for formal leadership titles, and yet the need for distributed leadership is so much greater.
When working with leadership agendas we know that leadership is about leading the firm, the clients, the teams and the projects. Leadership is hard in part because professionals want to focus directly on their work and their clients. For this reason, what we normally see from firms is that most professionals don’t want to lead and also don’t want to be led. They want to focus on the client and doing the work well.
Leaders often question their right to lead and their own confidence and ability to so do – these areas need to be worked upon holistically. From our experience Partners who develop people within their firm, and lean on others from inside and outside of the organisation, understand that it is not all about themselves and therefore lead in the right way. They lead in a way that encourages and inspires a strong sense of followership within the firm.
Our view is that the role of the leader and the implied skills it requires, can be developed within each individual. It is, however, a set of skills that requires practice in order to truly develop and flourish.
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