There needs to be a distinction made in the accounting industry. The term “managing partner” is used to describe the leader or person in-charge of the firm; however this is not always the case.  Some firms have a person with the title of managing partner but in reality, function more like a coordinating partner. So which one are you?  In this post, I am going to make the distinction between a managing partner and a coordinating partner, as well as offer some suggestions to further develop your leadership skills.

Managing partners

Managing partners are truly leading their firms. They do this by looking into the future (one, three and even five years out) to determine what the firm needs to do in order to grow, prosper and be better than the competition.

Once they have chosen a path, they create a plan for the tough road ahead with incremental steps leading to the overall vision. Managing partners surround themselves with visionaries to aid in developing the future picture and plan. They get other people to follow, gaining buy-in by painting a clear, exciting future picture of the firm and modeling appropriate behaviors.

Managing partners set expectations from the rest of the partner group, giving clear goals and measuring success. They also invest in the future by spending time and dollars training their staff to become the next generations of leaders; protecting their investment by providing clear professional development plans and an environment where staff can excel.

Coordinating partners

Coordinating partners are focused on maintaining the status-quo. They do this by looking into the past to review what has been done, but this does not mean they will offer a plan for moving forward.

Coordinating partners keep peace within the firm which means they sit idly by while other partners do what they want. They are surrounded by the partners with the biggest book of business or the loudest voice, not necessarily by choice but because those partners fear change and make sure to keep their voices (and opinions) heard.

Coordinating partners don’t make decisions without unanimous agreement by the partner group. Unwilling to push initiatives, coordinating partners often see their firms stall out or decline. Coordinating partners minimally invest in their staff and will lose top performers, while retaining low and average performers.  

Let me now pose the question one more time; are you a managing partner or a coordinating partner? Maybe you feel like you’re a little bit of both. Well for those of you that want to improve, I have good news… you can. However this will not be an easy task, change is hard and takes a lot of planning.

For behavior change to be permanent not only do you need to develop your leadership skills, you must also adapt the environment to support your new skills and initiatives. Here are a few suggestions to start developing your managing partner skills:  

1) Start small - If you attempt to tackle too many initiatives at once then you will likely become overwhelmed and fail. Pick out one or two initiatives to start with.  
2) Develop a personal development plan for yourself - Not only is this leading by example, but it will allow you to determine a path and be accountable to yourself.
 3) Get coaching - A coach will help you navigate through the unknown, offer unbiased advice and hold you accountable. You may also want to look into training to develop your executive leadership skills and confidence.
 4) Start measuring - Measurement is the basis for accountability and goal setting. To be an effective leader, you need to provide people with a clear vision and feedback.  
5) Shut down the opposition - You were chosen as managing partner to lead the firm. Although getting feedback from your other partners is a good thing, you are the one responsible for the growth and development of the firm. Just because someone has a loud voice does not mean he has the firm’s interest at heart; it is quite possible he has his own interests ahead of the firms.            

As a managing partner you are responsible for growing and developing the firm and your employees. This is no easy task; however you are in this position for a reason. Either you have grown the firm to where it is today or you were selected because your partners thought that you are the best person for the job. Take this opportunity to lead your firm in becoming better than it is today and fulfill your role as the managing partner. I leave you with a quote and a call to action.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” - Peter F. Drucker         

Don’t be a coordinating partner! Develop your leadership skills and begin painting a clear and exciting future for you and your firm. Excitement is contagious - soon your firm will be a better place to work, attract better clients, produce better client service and enjoy better results. Be the managing partner your firm deserves.

Bryan Shelton, M.S. is a consultant at The Rainmaker Consulting Group in Nashville, Tenn. He can be reached at