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The top 10 things that keep managing partners awake at night, and why it matters

cartoon of night sky with a moon

There is an old saying that the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is that in a dictatorship someone tells you what to do whereas in a democracy you elect someone who tells you what to do.

Would you say your partnership is a democracy? Sort of … probably … sometimes? Does it matter?

Professional partnerships are fantastically unique. I will hazard a guess that if you as a partner in a professional services firm were to explain to the chief executive of a client company that their equivalent in your own business is appointed by, and reports to, the very same people they lead and manage, that chief executive wouldn’t believe you. Because how could that possibly work? The managing partner is surely hamstrung?

But of course we know that it does work, and reasonably well, at least most of the time. Because all managing partners rise from the ranks and then most will tread a fine line between an almost Peelian ‘policing by consent’ approach and just getting done what has to be done. I remember Tony Angel once calling this ‘leading from the middle’.

But where does this leave us as individual partners? Where does the balance lie between supporting our managing partner and making out a forceful case for our managing partner’s support for us?

Here is my own take on the top 10 things, in order, that might keep a typical managing partner awake at night - in the hope that this will give you some insight into why your own line has to be trodden carefully.

The obvious takeaways are:

  • many of these concerns are short-term/tactical rather than long-term/strategic … because in nearly all firms every partner’s financial interest in the business is in annual profit share not long term capital growth, and

  • nearly all of these concerns are responsive to events, not proactive … because the managing partner is entirely dependent on the partners to deliver: the partners are the business.

I will get my tin hat …

1. This month’s numbers

2. Cashflow, and the ability to maintain scheduled partner distributions

3. This quarter’s numbers

4. The half-year P&L

5. This year’s PEP

6. Losing their best partners or, far worse, teams of their best partners

7. League tables and the pressure to chase growth

8. Reputational damage to the firm

9. Politics and their own re-election prospects

10. How to maintain partnership cohesion and alignment in a hybrid working world post-COVID


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