Survival-Mode Leadership

June 25, 2010 · by Peter Piven

Professional services firms require skilled leadership. In a lackluster economy, even greater demands fall on the shoulders of those at the top of the org chart.

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The Owners Dilemma

Qualities of a Leader

Although leaders who are currently in place rarely think about what makes them good leaders, they frequently start such thinking when faced with the need to expand the ownership group or to transition ownership to others.

Criteria for leadership advancement usually begin with elements that refer to individuals’ capabilities:

• Professional competence (exhibiting solid professional or technical skills in an important area of the firm’s practice; making sound professional or technical decisions)

• Professional maturity (demonstrating high professional standards; working actively to help others develop similar skills and attitudes)

• Marketing and selling (applying marketing and selling techniques)

• Client management (leading clients and projects toward achievement of their goals and those of the firm)

• Financial management (understanding the economic and financial structures of practice; making sound financial decisions)

• Strategic thinking (making sound strategic decisions in short- and long-term situations)

• Decision making (taking decisive, clear positions)

• Negotiating (employing effective bargaining skills toward the firm’s interests)

• Problem solving (addressing challenges proactively; taking responsibility)

• Investment (understanding the firm’s capital needs; investing as an equity owner)

These abilities are vital to getting the opportunities the firm needs, providing the services required to capitalize on the opportunities, and managing the enterprise itself. They can be developed through education, example, experience, coaching, and mentoring. They can be taught, and they can be learned.

There are additional criteria that are frequently applied to advancement considerations that are more appropriately called attributes — personal characteristics or qualities that cannot be taught:

• Trustworthiness (exercising good judgment; making the right decisions)

• Integrity (honest, ethical, and professional at all times; summoning the respect of others)

• Compatibility (maintaining personal, professional, and business values consistent with the firm’s other leaders)

• Creativity (thinking and acting creatively; suggesting innovative solutions to problems)

• Work ethic (demonstrating initiative and drive)

• Vision (articulating a clear view for the future; motivating others to get there)

• Communication (speaking and writing effectively; appreciating others’ feelings)

• Focus (paying attention to others; understanding the relative importance of issues)

• Passion (devotion to the profession, the firm, and the firm’s work)

• Fit (relating well to others; adding positively to the culture)

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