I work with many professional services firms that have a strong left-brain type of focus: accountants, financial planners, bookkeepers, lawyers. These kinds of roles require enormous technical expertise, strong logical thinking, and great attention to detail. All the things I kind of suck at.
Luckily for me, it is my ability with people they seek. I may have documents with typos, I may do things that my lawyer husband deems ‘illogical’ because my choices are more intuitive, but I make it my life’s work to try and understand people.
Here are three mistaken assumptions that I’ve seen hamstring otherwise excellent firms until they get it sorted:
1. Doing good quality work will secure and keep clients.
Ummmmm. Actually, no. Doing good quality work is the baseline requirement for any industry service, period. Clients expect their accountant to be up to date with the legislation, to do the accounts accurately and quickly. Lawyers are expected to know the law.
What actually gets and keeps clients is CONNECTION. The ability to engage with clients as human beings, to be interested in them, or as one of my clients says, ‘to give a sh*t’, is really what keeps clients with their technical professional.
2. The smart staff will make good managers.
Not always. Smart people don’t come equipped with all the skills of leadership like a bluechip implant (not yet anyway). Smart people can learn these skills, but they won’t necessarily naturally have them. This is especially true for those professionals who have been immersed in their technical expertise: they have been consumed with learning the ins and outs of their job requirements, not figuring out why Johnny and Susan don’t get along in the office.
There is a big difference between being able to churn out an annual report and quarterly statements than there is delegating, motivating, inspiring a team and contributing strategically to a firm. These are new skills that need to be learned and developed consciously.
3. The firm’s leader can teach leadership.
Maybe. Successful firms are often led by people who have made it their business to understand and know people, to care for them, and to look after staff welfare. If the firm has done well, chances are they managing the people side of things well.
Having the firm’s leader teach leadership skills to high potential staff is fraught with a few challenges, namely the power differential and the consequences of stuffing it up in front of the boss. This will make the staff feel more reluctant to raise issues and ask questions.
It is better to have the firm’s leaders act as mentors rather than trainers. They can help contextualise training within the firm’s culture and expectations.
Here is a complimentary case study that showcases Canberra firm, DPR Accountants and Advisors and how they are developing leadership in their organisation. It has helped them shore up the future of the firm, as well as strengthen the team connection. Clients are happier too, and that’s the main objective. Learn from their insights and apply them to your team.
Download here (no optin required).