Leading with Impact – Being a Practice Leader is Tough, Really Tough

Leadership is tough no matter where you work. Let’s face it, work is a complex place and getting more complex every day. Expectations of leaders are high. Management literature has ensured that.

Leadership in a Professional Service Firm is exceptionally tough – I think maybe the toughest leadership role you can have. Professionals are smart and driven, and at least at the partner level, they do not have to follow. Professionals only follow because they respect a Practice Leader or because they choose to. Professional Service Firms have lots of rules and organizational structure but very little of it is written down in a cohesive way. Leadership in a PSF requires incredible political prowess and can’t appear ambitious or political.

So what do the very best Practice Leaders do? Here are 5 of the most important leadership behaviours for a PSF Practice Leader.

1. Understand the political landscape and how to navigate it. The best Practice Leaders know the unwritten rules (or know who to speak to). They understand who matters – quite often it is their superiors and also their peers who seem to have no formal role but are incredibly influential.

2. Assess their Practice Strategically and Determine their Overall Practice Objectives. Effective Practice Leaders understand where a practice is particularly strong, where it is weak and needs shoring up, and what it will need to endure future client demands. They tend to look at a practice by geography, service line and individual partner practice.

3. Work with and Coach Every Partner. The best Leaders find a way to engage the “rainmakers”. They can identify how to help each Partner be more successful and challenge them to step up. They also coach them through roadblocks or challenges.

4. Create Leverage. Most Practice Leaders have some form of a leadership team. That leadership team often helps the Leader with engaging Partners or groups of professionals to drive the overall objectives for the practice. Large or diverse practices really benefit from a team because it gives the Leader leverage. It is almost impossible to lead without them.

5. Create a System for Accountability. You can’t tell Partners what to do but you can help them grow their practices and then hold them accountable. An effective accountability system usually includes individual goal setting and individual partner meetings to review and discuss progress. It also includes leadership team meetings where overall practice performance is discussed, analyzed and continually moved forward as a team.

Why do I think these 5 behaviours are so important? Because these are the things that drive growth and innovation in a practice. Without this, a practice is likely to die. If Leaders are clear on where they are going strategically and if they have a plan to engage each and every Partner (either personally of through their leadership team), the practice will grow and people will want to follow. These 5 things work for all PSF Leaders whether they run the Firm, an individual practice or an individual client project.

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