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The Bridge to The Land of Partner

Published on October 30, 2017 by Guy Gage, PartnersCoach

Imagine a deep, but fairly narrow, crevasse with a firm’s senior managers on one side and senior leaders on the other. They stand, looking at each other, waiting for the other side to do something. But nothing happens. It is disappointing to the senior leaders that the managers can’t get over to their side. With all the support, resources and instructions they have provided to the managers, they should be able to cross. But they don’t. And it is frustrating to the senior managers because everything the partners have given them has proven to be insufficient to ford the chasm. So they can’t. This image is what I have when I speak with partners and aspiring partners in firms.

Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of senior managers who aspire to be partners and their senior partners who struggle with making them partners. What I hear from the senior leaders (SLs) is that their senior managers (SMs) just aren’t ready. The SLs feel like they have to choose between inviting unprepared SMs to partnership or risk losing them.

However, saying to a SM, “You need to show more self-confidence” or “You don’t communicate very well” or “You need to be more disciplined in getting things done” isn’t particularly helpful. With those vague comments, it leaves SMs to figure it out for themselves. If they can’t, then SLs are likely to conclude that they just don’t have what it takes.

Here are 3 examples of SMs who found their way to be partner-ready. All were significant contributors to their firms and were motivated to become partner. By building their own bridge to the Land of Partner, they grew and established themselves as high-contributing members of their firms.

One SM had such high expectations of his staff that he believed no one measured up, which meant that no one was motivated to work with him. His gruff, critical tone was a real turn off. In fact, it was suspected that one or two staff moved on because of the unpleasant experience they had under his management. While intending to push people to excellence, the real problem was that he was unaware of how his approach was off-putting to others and how difficult he made it for others to work with him. So our time together was spent understanding where his high standards came from (his own sense of not measuring up) and then learned how to have high expectations of others and then reinforce them with effective feedback and coaching skills.

Another very capable SM tended to present herself as inexperienced and lacking confidence in her interactions and meetings. Her reserved style was accentuated when she encountered unfamiliar people or when she had to assume a leader role. While being painfully aware of how much this inhibited her progress, she didn’t know how to overcome it. Just being told that she should have more confidence wasn’t enough. We spent some time understanding her self perceptions (who would want to listen to me?) and then developed a plan to identify specific presentation skills and influencing behavior that allowed her to show her experienced self, with confidence.

Another SM demonstrated inconsistency in his performance. The partners were uncomfortable with his on-or-off irregularity. It was hard to rely on him to take on something and see it through to the end. He was capable, and when he was on, he was really good. He just wasn’t that way enough of the time. The partners needed someone who would consistently perform at the partner level. After a few meetings, we identified his motivational drivers and how to access them on a regular basis. From there, he learned specific effectiveness habits that kept him focused and dedicated to be his best self.

Each of these SMs had to construct their own bridge to the Land of Partner. They learned to expand their capabilities while remaining true to their natural style. The goal wasn’t to make them to be someone they weren’t, but to be fully who they could be. By discovering their natural strengths and aptitudes and having gathered useful feedback from their colleagues in the firm, we were able to develop a specific bridge for each of them that focused on shaping their thinking, approach and behavior so that they demonstrated they were partner-ready. As a result, they were fully engaged in their work and their career and felt better about having overcome the things that hindered them. And they were prepared to assume a partner role.

Land of Partner, look out!

Guy Gage III, LPC CPT, has combined over two decades of experience developing leaders within accounting firms. Using his unique educational background in human motivation and performance, he provides instruction, coaching and consulting to accounting firms. Visit