The strengths of great firm leaders

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Great leaders all share the same seven strengths:

  • Clarity – clear in all messaging and communications;
  • Confidence – complete confidence in their leadership responsibilities and accepts responsibility;
  • Courage – courage to lead and take necessary actions
  • Conviction – knows what needs to be done and committed to the actions needed to build a great culture and drive the firm to a standout, high-performing firm;
  • Consistency – consistent in actions, communications and leadership to ensure that everyone builds trust in their leadership;
  • Compassion – takes the time to know their team and their hopes, dreams and fears, and always leads with a focus on the basic belief that it is their responsibility to motivate and inspire everyone to become what they never imagined they could be;
  • Consensus – seeks input to build consensus and agreement on critical issues and ensures that those who provided input are given the respect of understanding surrounding the final decision, whether it reflected their input or not.

In any firm, if we judge leadership through the filters of successfully driving firm revenue and profitability as well as building a great culture and team, the effectiveness of leadership varies from poor to average to great. What makes the difference is the extent to which the leader demonstrates strength in the above seven characteristics. Let’s look a little deeper into each.

Courage to take responsibility

Too many leaders tend to look at where to point the finger and lack the courage and confidence to accept responsibility. Great leaders accept responsibility and look at the mistakes of others or their own as a teaching moment. They keep their team focused on the end goal and the roadmap to get there and fully understand that a culture of blame will only result in partners and staff afraid to take on the challenges any firm faces. Great leaders exhibit and communicate leadership strength, courage and conviction through decisions and actions that tell everyone it is OK to make a mistake. They work to understand what happened and why, not who to blame, helping their team members learn from mistakes, grow and remain focused on the long-term plan.

Great leaders remain consistent in their focus on the longer-term strategic vision. Great leaders are strategic whereas too many leaders tend to be more tactical, with their forward view limited to the next quarter or the next year. Too many leaders spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror to form their tactical view, as opposed to being able to imagine a different future. Great leaders always learn from the past but lead within a consistent focus on the future. Great leaders understand that it is their responsibility to not only communicate and inspire everyone to move toward the overall strategic objectives and outcomes, but to also motivate everyone to “personally care” about the strategic outcomes. They are great in communicating their message with clarity, in understandable terms and not the abstract. They understand the importance of ensuring that every team member shares the future vision and understands their role in achieving it.

Too many leaders tend to view success through the filter of financial metrics, whereas great leaders see financial metrics as a result and not as a measure of success. Great leaders measure success against the vision, mission and core values of the firm and the longer-term strategy that drives financial success. They provide the insights and clarity to help everyone fully understand the longer-term strategy and through that process make it easier for everyone to make directionally correct day-to-day decisions, positively impacting all the firm’s financial results and metrics.

Great leaders make challenging decisions through consensus and with compassion. When decisive action is needed or difficult personnel decisions are needed, too many leaders delay, defer, procrastinate and all too often just don’t make the decision. Great leaders make hard decisions after thoughtful and compassionate consideration as well as seek input and consensus, but they make the decision without procrastination and share the reasoning when appropriate. Great leaders are seen by everyone as thoughtful and compassionate, but decisive when they need to be.

Great leaders put the client at the center of their universe and make most decisions based on what is best for the client, understanding that through that filter, decisions will also be best for the firm. Too many leaders put the firm at the center of their universe and operate from the perspective of what is best for the firm. Great leaders understand that complex or inefficient internal systems are among the biggest performance killers for the firm and one of the biggest client relationship killers. Putting the client at the center makes life easier for all partners and staff, simplifies all internal processes, and strengthens client satisfaction and loyalty to the firm.

If you look at any professional services firm and interview just a few people, it quickly becomes evident what type of leader the firm has. In too many firms, the approach to leading is to build on the past to create the present since their vision is so short term. The problem with letting the past dictate not only the present but also the future is that the firm will always remain stuck in the middle, as just another me-to firm.

As Napoleon stated, “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we lose the future.” Great leaders, in contrast, learn from the past and create the future based on a vision and strategy of what the firm should be five years from today. They lead through the courage of their actions and through their people, with the singular goal of creating a standout, high-performing firm. They plan for the future based on a vision of what the future can be and not from the past.

The challenge

The challenge to all firm leaders is how well do your actions and communications align with the seven strengths of great leadership? Are you a leader whom everyone in the firm willingly follows and trusts? The challenge for every leader is to continue to learn their job as the leader— it is a never-ending learning experience where the challenges and successes of each day will provide you with the opportunity to learn and become a better leader if your mindset is open and you understand that your primary focus is on leading and not managing.

Becoming a great leader is not a place you reach, but a road you travel.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man Is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This same statement applies to leadership. Great leaders step up to a challenge and controversy since they live and breathe the seven strengths discussed above. Average leaders retreat from leading to managing when controversy or challenge is in front of them.

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