“You don’t need to know you can do 100% of the job, but you do need to be prepared for some steep learning”
Partner, Magic Circle Law Firm.
In a recent conversation with the head of Learning and Development at a City Law firm, we discussed the typical legal career. Sure, she said, there are lots of transitions on your way through, but the two most significant by far are on qualifying, and on being made up to partner.
I hear this idea regularly, across professional services, when I coach new and aspiring partners. Managing the changes that promotion brings can be challenging. So what can make the transition easier? Here are several themes that regularly come up, alongside suggestions for how best to tackle them.
Expect the change
While there will be many changes that you anticipate when you are made up to partner, there will be many more that you don’t. Often these are about you and how you feel, rather than the role and its responsibilities. It is not unusual for new partners to say they feel isolated or even lonely once they make partner. After all, you are now part of a new team – the perceptions of your former peers will be different, and you can feel as though you don’t fit in as you once did. This feeling can be exacerbated by the knowledge that your relationship with existing partners has changed, and you need to rediscover your place in the business.
It is not unusual for new partners to report imposter syndrome. Defined as a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, it may be familiar to you already. Studies show that up to 70% of professionals experience impostor syndrome at work at some point. It may be of comfort to know that if this is your experience, it is also that of your colleagues!
What can you do to protect against these challenges? Alongside having an awareness of what is coming, ensuring that you have a support network in place is critical. These people can be internal or external to your organisation and can include mentors, peers, sponsors, confidantes and coaches. The number of people in your network is less important than the quality of the connections. Have you got the right people in your corner, and are there any gaps in the support and guidance they give you? If you can already spot holes, working out how you can plug them is invaluable, and will save you time and energy as you progress. Much as you have in your career so far, to succeed as a partner, you will need cheer leaders and supporters.
Get clear on your brand
Who are you, and what do you bring to the partnership? Do you have a particular interest in developing people internally? Are you keen on horizon scanning and steering the business from a technology perspective? Getting clear on what you want to be known for will allow you to say yes to the right things, and no to the ones that, if unchecked, can overwhelm you. Having clarity will develop your brand, meaning people know what you stand for, and that you are an authority on a particular topic or in a particular area. This is something that will serve you well as you continue in your career.
Have you considered what kind of leader you want to be? It may not be something you have thought about, but how will you know if you are successful if you haven’t been clear about what you’re aiming for?
Look at the characteristics you admire in others and make time to reflect on how you currently lead. Where do you see your areas for development, and how can you go about addressing these? If you are at a loss, this might be the time to get some expert help, and an executive coach might be useful. Once you have this clarity, you are in a position to look for development opportunities, both in the business and through training or coaching.
Trite as it sounds, it is essential to remember that partnership is something that you have been working towards for a long time, if not for the whole of your career. That said, partnership is a jumping-off point, providing you with a platform to increase your impact and influence in your organisation and more widely. Take some time to reflect on how far you have come and how hard you worked to get there. Promotion can be a whirlwind of change, so finding some time to acknowledge your success will help you enjoy it.
To manage your path to partnership, being aware of some common challenges having a plan to tackle them will stand you in good stead. I have outlined just some of the issues that come up when I coach aspiring partners. Undoubtedly there are many more, and every experience is different. An awareness of what might be to come will certainly help.
Author Anna Wesson is an executive coach, specialising in the transition to partnership in professional service firms.