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Why partner fit comes 1st and standing out will follow

toy with cubes

Teenagers will tell you their big dilemma in today’s social media world is to stand out from the crowd whilst also fitting in - to be accepted as one of the tribe but also bring something different, something special.

And wasn’t it ever thus? Only that social media has amplified this to cacophony levels.

Professional partnerships are little different. If anything, they are perfect microcosms where this truism thrives, only we can substitute lateral hiring and forced growth for social media.

Every partnership is a tribe of sorts with its own identity, expectations and norms. This is frequently confused with culture but it is much deeper seated than that – culture is the behavioural manifestation of these tribal markers.

I grew up in what was then a ‘one-firm’ firm, and so I absorbed the stories of a single tribe by osmosis. But today’s professional services firms are mostly very different – frequently so large and diverse that they more closely resemble firms within firms within firms. And so every partner is typically a member of multiple partner tribes – perhaps a local practice group, a local office, a national practice group, an international practice group, several sector focus groups and both national and international partnerships.

The tendency of many partners, especially lateral hires, is to think that making their mark and standing out from the crowd is their number one priority. This is certainly true externally in crowded and competitive client markets. But internally within our firms, there is only one primary challenge – to fit into our various internal tribes.

Because the reality is we will be little more than sole traders unless and until we fit in internally. Few other partners will support, or share clients, intelligence or resources with, someone they do not feel is aligned to and cohered with them, and is someone they trust.

And these benefits have to be earned. That’s human nature – people buy people. So the challenge for all of us is to get bought.

Our success as a partner will depend on the quality of our relationships within, and with, the partnership. And high quality internal relationships will buy us both the time and the support to fix inevitable external disappointments from time to time around originations and client following.

But ‘fitting in’ to our various tribes isn’t a question of serendipity or genomics. It is about reading the tea leaves and adjusting our behaviour where necessary to the tribe in question. And adjust we must as we can be sure they will not adjust to us. Partnership is thankfully no longer a matter of ‘people like us’ but about being the consummate professional – someone who understands who they are, understands the environment they have to fit into, understands the behaviours they have to manage accordingly and just does it.

This represents a combination of emotional and executive intelligence that the best partners do well – not because they are necessarily natural at it (few professionals find it at all natural) but because they know it is important, they listen, learn and work hard at it.

Do this well within the partnership and it will equip us to stand out, internally and externally.


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