Rainmakers resemble what business thinkers call “law firm marketing ideas.” These are core-level players. They get things done–often by imposing their will on others. They never say die. They are obsessive and have great tenacity, but at some point, the management and business skills necessary to take their organization to the next level are simply not compatible with their nature or desires. Ironically, the character qualities found in top rainmakers are often strikingly different from those found in top managers.
In large firms, rainmakers who are also managing partners are famous for letting the firm’s business be managed by executive committee–not because committee action is superior, but because rainmakers would rather not be bothered with such headaches. However, an executive committee can never replace the leadership and management strength necessary to take a firm to a higher level.
The main role of the managing partner, as I see it, is being able to keep the discontent factor of my other partners to an absolute minimum.”
To most rainmakers, marketing means reeling in new clients–preferably big ones with substantial and broad-based legal needs. For firms with such a rainmaker as managing partner, the rainmaker is the firm’s marketing. That is, until the rainmaker leaves.
When “Great Ones” LeaveWhen Great Ones leave, a large void is created. Great Ones leave behind not only their legacy, but also firms without leaders. All too often the space they vacated is left unfilled by the remaining partners. The truth is, these types of powerhouse partners are hard acts to follow, and their absence can loom as large and as real as their presence once did.
Uncertainty often follows the departure of such personalities. For most partners, it’s a very unsettling experience. The next in line–the replacements–often perceive their new positions after such a transition as temporary holding stations until the next best leader can be resurrected, hopefully in the image of the Great One.
Taking the helm, especially when a firm is under stress, has destroyed otherwise promising careers. Some newly ordained managing partners decide to just wait it out. They are managing partners by default, and their sole interest is to stay the course.
These types hedge their bets, keep an active caseload, service the big clients and, if time permits, try to manage the firm. Like good soldiers, they keep their heads down and ears open.
So What Makes A Great Leader?
If your firm is seeking a new leader, look for a team player who is honest, inquisitive, imaginative, cooperative, communicative–and, above all, one who wants the firm to soar at many levels. Remember, leadership is a state of mind.?The most dynamic types of leader are perspective-driven. These intensely inquisitive people need to know what actually helps their firm to grow and prosper and, just as importantly, what causes it to falter. They want to know what clients think about the firm–what clients actually experience when they visit and do business with the firm.
Perspective-driven leaders seek to discover new ways of serving clients and making them feel valued. They are painfully honest and realistic when it comes to evaluating performance–including their own. These leaders do not claim to have a monopoly on knowledge. They know that to completely understand a major challenge, they must turn to people who think in a variety of ways; thinking in teams is usually more productive than thinking individually.
True leaders have personal visions that incorporate the firm’s vision. They believe in the firm. They have the courage to make tough decisions–including showing toxic partners the door.
True leaders strengthen the firm from the inside out–starting by working with others to define its core values, and then by moving toward making those values an intrinsic part of everything the firm does and every impression it makes.
They are great listeners; they don’t bark out orders from behind their desks. Real leaders find ways to develop strengths in the people they work with. They work through people, by understanding and evoking their intelligence, creativity, and participation. Especially for firms in the midst of great change, leaders must be able to manage through teams of people, delegating work and rewarding performance while encouraging persistence. Such leaders encourage excellent performance at every level. The most successful managing partners I have seen rarely dominate the group; rather they support the group by keeping it focused and on task. Such leaders rely on others to help them stay organized. Watch a leader and a trusted secretary interact–can you tell who is managing whom?
Exceptional leaders work hard to remove barriers in communication among their key people. They see their role as smoothing out the processes. They are facilitators, not dominators. They think about ways of making others more effective and productive–making it easier for them to do their jobs. And when their effort results in success, these leaders rarely take the credit, instead giving it to the group where it belongs.
Finally, know that finding a partner with all of these traits is next to impossible–but it does provide you with a meaningful basis from which to predict who among your partners is best suited to take the helm.