Moving into Leadership
I’ve been working with a lot of professional services firms recently and have been struck by the leadership demands being made on people transitioning into very senior roles. Particularly those making partner.
The step up to partner is a huge one and the pressure people are under is immense.
Getting to partner means you’ve been a superstar on your way up. When you get there, however, you move from being at the top of the tree, to being back at the bottom. Like the new kid at big school, you are now having to fight for yourself as the buck now quite literally stops with you.
More work hard, work hard than work hard, play hard
The leadership demands on partners are considerable, with challenging financial and utilisation targets. To cope with it all some of the people I’ve been working with are consistently working eighteen-hour days. Yes, the rewards are significant but the cost is detrimental to well-being. And more importantly, it’s not sustainable. The culture has to change or business will suffer.
In my experience, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the primary challenges is stakeholder management. Of course, stakeholder management has always been a key skill but it regularly surfaces as a source of stress, anxiety and friction. I spend a lot of time helping people see relationships through a new lens, offering skills and techniques for managing interactions in a different way.
This taps into a common challenge for people who have traditionally been technical experts and now have to switch their focus to people. This new focus is further complicated by the breadth of stakeholders to engage; clients, prospects, fellow partners, teams (often constituted of your former peers) all make very different claims. This makes for a complicated mix of relationships.
Resilience is a common topic at the moment but until I started working in depth with professional services, I hadn’t appreciated quite how central its role needs to be for leaders. Doing the job is one thing, being able to hold on to yourself while you do is quite another.
Making the change
What does this mean? Well two things really. The first is that if it’s untenable, then the new generation of leaders are going to have to ring in the changes. The “I had to go through it, so you’ll have to do it too” mentality will have to be challenged. The second is that if you’re making the transition into leadership, the development of your interpersonal skills is as important, if not more in your new role, than your technical ones.
Happily for me, this plays into my sweet spot but unhappily it’s not an area that is talked about enough. Yes, well-being is increasingly being seen as crucial but until we can quantify the cost of the pressure people are under and attach it to a PNL, or someone can prove that less pressured and stressed people are more productive, I fear that it’s not going to be taken seriously enough. Let’s hope those correlations are made soon.