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If you want to go further as a partner, get into your zone and then go together with others

relay race

Top sportspeople seem to have more time than the rest. Sometimes it can even be as if they make time stand still. You might see this too in musicians, artists, dancers. They would say they are ‘in the zone’. Psychologists would say that they are in a state of ‘flow’ – totally immersed, involved, focused and using their skills to the utmost.

Some partners do this too. The biggest rainmaker I know, someone with a huge personal following, works very hard indeed but loves what they do, never seems unduly stressed and seems to have time to burn.

My own experience was different. I was a decent corporate lawyer but my tendency to prefer the big picture meant that I found some aspects of lawyering far from natural – hard work in fact. My strengths are more strategic, commercial and people-based and so I quickly gravitated to the transaction and client management end of deals and sought to delegate more of the ‘law’ to others. And as soon as the opportunity arose, I moved from working ‘in the business’ to working ‘on the business’ and became a managing partner. Life then became easier and more enjoyable and I discovered new reserves of energy because I was ‘in the zone’ far more of the time, doing what was natural to me.

How many of us as partners are ‘in the zone’ for ‘most of the time’?

20%? Perhaps 30%? Certainly not much more than that, and nowhere near enough. Which partly explains why so many partners suffer with stress.

It seems to me this is largely driven by two factors:

1. Professional firms still promote primarily on the basis of functional professional expertise, rather than commercial and management skills – and yet the ‘success’ factors for modern partners, as opposed to great professionals, are primarily commercial and management-related.

2. While most professional firms talk a good game about playing as a team, most profit sharing systems tend to value individual results over sacrifices made for the team. And as a result many partners tend to spend a lot of time trying to be the individual ‘model’ partner – a rainmaker, a cross-seller, a thought leader, a people leader and a manager, on top of being a perfect professional - even though this person does not exist.

This is an odd state of affairs, but we have to work with it.

And we can, and perfectly well, by having the courage to play to our strengths but combining this with the commercial savvy of taking care to also manage our risks. Because the opposite of a strength is a risk - my preference for the big picture can be at the cost of attention to detail.

Playing to our strengths means we can be ourselves and do what we are best at. Trying to be someone or something we are not is at best a waste of time and energy because ‘the market’ (internally and externally) will always find us out. Or, worse, it can break careers and potentially people too.

But, crucially, we also need to be able to strategically manage our ‘risks’ – what seems to us to be the other tedious or hard ‘stuff’ which doesn't come naturally, but which every modern partner has to make sure gets done. Some of this simply has to be done personally, so we have to get trained, become competent and reasonably efficient at it, get it done and move on. A lot of the rest can and should be delegated to business support professionals. But the real crux for most partners is to build strong alliances with other partners who complement us and us them – because finders need minders as much as minders need finders; specialists need generalists as much as generalists need specialists; leaders need followers as much as followers need leaders ... and the list could go on and on.

For partners at least, modern professional services is a complex team game, even if that message hasn’t fully percolated into most profit sharing systems yet. The real genius in the rainmaker I refer to above is not their professional or client skills but that they have devoted a huge amount of time and effort over many years to create and nurture a complex ecosystem of close and mutually beneficial partner alliances across many business areas and even geographies.

If we want to go further as partners, we have to get very good at both being in our ‘zones’ and going together with other partners. This, after all, is the enormous benefit, and essence, of partnership.


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