The Anxieties of Leadership: Critical Questions and Answers for New Managing Partners By Patrick McKenna

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For new managing partners, the responsibilities are multifaceted and the constituent stakeholders likewise diverse, both within and outside of the firm. That said, we can at least begin to define some fundamental criteria and best practices by positing a few questions to suggest objective and subjective standards for success. We can also begin to identify specific steps that can ease transitions and maximize the benefits for your firm going forward.

What are the most common mistakes new managing partners make when they take over?

We need to first acknowledge some possibly fundamental differences between the overall situations that pertain to a successful firm, versus what might be seen as a complacent firm or a firm that confronts severe and immediate competitive challenges. Each situation may require putting the new leadership accent on a different syllable and with an entirely different sense of urgency.

One of the more common mistakes is arriving on the scene believing that you already know what the issues are and that you already have the answers. If you take that approach, we can pretty much guarantee that you will not only discourage your partners and staff from sharing important information, but that your people will interpret the information you do get in ways that support your preexisting views.

Second, you have to be careful how your relationships are perceived. If you are coming to the top leadership position after stints as a practice or industry group head, or if you reside in some branch office, you will likely be perceived as maintaining obvious loyalties to established friends. Once you are identified as being on “one side” of an issue, it becomes even more difficult to solicit disinterested perspectives.

Finally, one of the tough challenges is to acknowledge what you don't know. Identify those around you who are the experts in various important areas and don't be afraid to lean on them. No one expects incoming leaders to know everything.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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