[IMGCAP(1)]Here’s a scenario that occurs in too many firms. Does it sound familiar to you?

You’ve been elected to be the lead on an important firm initiative. All the partners and leaders agree that it is an important change that needs to be made. They commit to supporting you and helping with whatever you need. All agree that success will require input from everyone. So you hesitatingly accept the role, hoping they really mean what they say about supporting you. If they aren’t serious, it will be a tremendous waste of time you don’t have and it will lead to frustration you don’t need. 

Your first step in the plan is to secure initial information from each partner. You send an email with your request. Several days pass and you receive no responses. You send a reminder email and you finally get a couple of responses. The rest are silent. You make one more effort by visiting each partner, verifying they received your original request and your reminder. All admit they received it, but all were unable to respond for good reasons. Each promises to get the information you need by the end of the week. Now all you can do is hope.

It’s now Monday of the following week and only one other person responded to your request. So that’s the result so far—wasted time and more frustration—exactly what you didn’t want. What happened to the importance of the initiative? What happened to all of the committed support that you were promised?

If you’ve experienced this scenario before, I apologize for resurrecting all those unpleasant feelings. It’s no wonder that you and others resist assuming leadership roles in your firm. This is a perfect case that demonstrates how difficult it is to lead when you have no followers.

So how do you prevent this scenario from recurring time after time? Certainly leadership development is important, but since everyone can't be a leader all the time, it is important that your firm’s leaders also know how to be led. When someone else is leading, how do you react? Do you fall in line to be an encouraging supporter? Or do you find fault, criticize and generally resist the leadership of another?

Partners often describe their frustration with how their colleagues and others will stand at bay, unwilling to get involved, unwilling to support or get behind an important effort for the sake of staff, clients or the firm. Here are a few tips for improving the chances for meaningful change—whether you are leading or being led.

When You’re the Leader
In order to prevent the failed scenario above from happening the next time you assume a leadership role, consider these suggestions before accepting.

• Commit first to bringing a plan of execution with responsibilities, dates and timeline to the group for approval. This reduces the blind “just let me know what you need” response to an unknown commitment. If the change is strategic, it warrants this kind of planning.

• Ask for two others who will serve on a design and execution team with you. With more people, it’s harder to put off requests to follow through. If the initiative is really strategic, it warrants this kind of attention.

• Ask the group what you should do if someone is lagging behind on following through. They will likely give you permission to be direct with your expectations. Having had the conversation puts everyone on notice that you will take the implementation seriously. Again, if the change is strategic, it requires this kind of authority.

When You’re the Follower
If you’re a follower, be a strong supporter of the champion.

• Put forth effort to understand, cooperate and follow through on their direction. They have a plan and need you to execute.

• Give good feedback about your perspective and observations. They often can't see everything clearly and may miss something you see or can anticipate.

• Be in regular communication with them, updating your progress and addressing any problems that you encounter. Don't be passive, communicating only when asked.

This proactive support approach is especially powerful when you are more seasoned than the one leading. Your juniors can gain as much from you following their lead as they can when you are leading.

Whether you are the leader or the follower, you have an important role in achieving the desired changes. Things change when you take responsibility for your role and expect others to do so as well.
Successful change initiatives are essential to growing firms. If you want to learn more, I will be co-presenting Why Your Firm Resists Change (and what to do about it) at the Growth and Profitability Summit this fall.

Guy Gage, LPC, CPT, is the owner of PartnersCoach, a coaching and consulting firm to professionals in private practice. He recently launched Partner-Pipeline, a new program for professional development that is designed to cultivate and develop the characteristics of high contributing partners. Guy will be leading his pre-conference workshop at this year’s Growth & Profitability Summit on November 2.

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