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The Boomer Bulletin - 2011
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The New Firm Leader

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The future leaders in our profession are sending us a message about how 
leadership is changing, the question is, are we listening?  They are saying "We don’t know everything and we don’t have to.  What we have to do is develop our unique talents and let others develop theirs while blending them collaboratively together.  That is how we will lead the firm of the future”. At first blush, many current firm leaders might say "they are naïve, just wait until they grow up”.  I would respond by simply saying – read on.  

The future leaders in our firms have a keen understanding of self, and they understand that while they have many fantastic traits, they are not a superstar at everything.   They push back strongly saying that in the firm that they build, it will function vastly different than the one they work in today.  Their firm of the future will be more collaborative and cohesive.  These young leaders have been fearless about change in their lives and that will carry through to the way they build their firm.  Culture, systems and processes will all change for them, and ultimately will change the entire industry.  The secret to all of this change is one person will not be responsible to create all of this change; it will be a collaborative – "group think” – mentality that is based on intellectual openness. 

So, what are the changes that will take place in the future?    

Change #1 - Collaborative Relationships are King

No lone rangers allowed will be the battle cry from leaders.  Today, when a new idea develops in a firm, it is often one leader coming to the group and selling their idea.  Then, the idea is implemented by a committee.  In the future, the idea will be developed by a group of people from the inception and then the entire group will continue to support and nurture the idea by bringing in other team members as needed to make the idea better.  The thought process is "let's all sit down at the table and figure this out – together”.  The pattern that will develop, and ultimately make a good idea a great idea is that by pulling together everyone’s ideas, thoughts, intellectual capital, the firm will benefit from the "group think” rather than "individual think”.  As you might imagine, there will be little room for individual egos in this environment.  Silos within the firm will deteriorate and power teams will emerge.    

Change #2 – Globalization and Diversity Will Be the Norm

Firms today have a reputation for being predominantly male, white and aging at the partner level, female, middle aged and white at the manager level and slightly more diverse in race, gender and nationality at the staff level.  Given the changing demographics of our country today, and the reality that our younger leaders have a more diverse and global outlook of the world, it is safe to say that the "look” of our firms will change in the future.  We are going to be more colorful and more widespread in our human resources.  This is a welcome change by our younger leaders who have gone to school and often traveled the world with friends of different nationalities and cultures.  Additionally, this change will require that we put a stronger emphasis on retention, attraction and motivation of the best talent, and find new ways to solidify our teams.

Change #3 - Digital Lifestyles and Skills Will Shape The Firm

This may be a change that most people would simply say "Duh” to.  We all realize that digital skills are changing the leader of the future.  The fact that our future leaders don’t understand why this is a game changer should tell us something.  The majority of our young leaders have never known a time when they did not have a computer in their home, and many don’t have any idea what it would be like to go out for an evening and not have a cell phone to communicate with.  This digital lifestyle will never go away – it just is!  Also, keep in mind that as our young leaders are built this way, so are the young clients that they will interact with.  This new digital reality is certain to shape the firm of our future. 

Change #4 - A Sense of Purpose and Dedication For All 

One interesting trait that will be a game changer for the leaders of our future firm is that these leaders will be less concerned about their own goals and more concerned about their overall team.  This goes back to change #1 in building the relationships, but it also emphasizes that this group of people have been programmed from their growing up years to care for their community and others.  Think about the youth of today and how they are taught, motivated and rewarded in schools today to care for their community and work with their classmates on projects. They will never be satisfied in their work life not using these skills to develop a sense of purpose and dedication for the overall firm and team, not just themselves.

Change #5 - Mentoring Is Out, Sponsoring Is In

 Future leaders are not uneducated, and they are realists that not everyone is going to want grow at the same time or the same pace as the next person.  They also realize that not everyone has the aptitude to be promoted to leadership positions. Rather than developing mentoring programs where everyone is treated exactly the same, they will opt for picking the players that are the best and then developing a close relationship with that person to sponsor them and grow them into one of the leadership positions that is required in the firm.  Even though some of them were raised in an environment where everyone got a blue ribbon or a gold medal, they understand that "one on one” sponsorship will provide an individual with the training that is best for them and far more productive and valuable than a program that is "one size fits all”. 

Change #6 - Health and Well Being Are Essential

 In a world where obesity seems to be the bane of our existence, the next generation leader will understand and support a work environment that promotes the physical and mental health of their team.  Through education, experience and a world that is fighting to control the balance between life and work, this new leadership group will put more emphasis on healthy lifestyles both in the office and outside the office.  The reward will be higher productivity, morale and retention rates.

With all of these changes upon us, how can the current leadership group help prepare and start implementing today?

Change #7 - Team Development and Hiring Changes

Profile your current team and begin to look critically at the skills that are not in your firm today.  Are you a firm that is full of researcher oriented people, but the number of process oriented project leaders are lacking?  Or, do you have a firm full of introverted followers who take direction well, but not many individuals who are hungry to "own” responsibilities and want to lead initiatives in the firm.  After you analyze your current situation, then prepare to hire for more than the technical needs of today, but also the leadership needs of the future.  Firms absolutely need skills and abilities, but they also need emotional intelligence.  This will require analysis, new hiring skills and a dedication to changing old habits.  Remember, if you continue to hire, promote and motivate the way you have in the past, you will get the same talent you have had in the past, and that will not be good enough in the future.

Change #8 - Form a Future Leader Initiative

Leaders must listen carefully and hear what their people are telling them.  Leaders must also understand that putting together the leadership of the future requires that they look at each person as a separate and unique individual – identifying the unique characteristics that they have and allowing them to develop those skills.  Just because someone is not the best business developer does not mean they are not valuable, they may indeed have a gift for putting processes in place that will save the firm hours in productivity and efficiency.  Another person who is a superb business developer, may not like to research new systems and the leader sees that their motivation will come from front stage projects dealing with client and prospect interactions.  One is not wrong or less valuable, both are equally amazing.  A positive way to find out what is floating around in your future leaders minds is to form a "Tomorrows Leaders Initiative” in your firm.  Give them objectives, but let them figure out the strategies, ideas and timelines for initiatives that will help the firm prepare for the future.  

Change #9 - Get Flexible With Learning and Training

While some firms are still struggling to develop cookie cutter learning ladders and training plans that will work for everyone in the firm, the firm of the future will have career planning and learning ladders that are much less linear and far more individualized.  Flexibility will be imperative and lateral moves will be much more accepted and encouraged.  This would be an excellent project for a Tomorrows Leaders group to work on.

Change #10 - Replace Pen and Paper with Real Words

We are a paper and pencil kind of world when it comes to feedback and performance management.  We are an industry that is nice and caring. Often, this translates to thinking through how you want to nicely give someone feedback on their performance, writing it down and then delivering by letting them read what you wrote.  The verbal exchange is short, sweet and to the point, and often has not intrinsic value to the team member.  Progressive firms today are teaching their leaders to have verbal exchanges with their team members and using the paper as simply backup to the conversation.  These conversations are critical to developing the relationships that are valued by the individual and to enact the performance that we desire from each person.  Some will think this is contrary to the digital lifestyle that this younger leader is accustomed to, but it plays well into the close relationship that they are hungry for within their work environment.


Is this new leader, and new leadership style of the future complicated? Yes!  Is it rewarding? Absolutely!  As we approach a new year, I challenge each of you to rethink your current leadership style and commit to making changes that will assist your firm is taking positive steps toward a firm that future leaders will be attracted to, and will be excited about helping to build.    




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