• Sandra Wiley, President

Positioning Yourself to Be a Partner – Your Way!


“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Pierce

If you’re a rising star in your firm, you’ve most likely been asked the question, “do you aspire to be partner?” The answer could be “absolutely,” “never” or “I have no idea.” The challenge is that most of the time the answer has a second part, which is, “not the way current partners are today.”

So, how do you design a career that includes going to the ownership level in a way that feels real and authentic to you? It IS possible. Here’s the roadmap.

Acquire the skills needed to be a leader in your firm

What are the attributes of current leaders in your firm? What are the attributes required of partners in the future? Many of the necessary qualities and characteristics of firm leaders are changing, but some are timeless. The graphic below illustrates the overlap.

Practice the Four Cs

In our years of working with leaders and visionaries in the accounting profession, we’ve observed four steps that lead to breakthrough results. We call them the Four Cs:

  • Commitment. First, you must take a leap of faith and really commit to what you want to achieve – commit before you have every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. That is scary.

  • Courage. Most people admire courage in others but have trouble building it themselves. In fact, it sometimes feels awful to commit yourself to something without proof it will pay off.

  • Capability. The combination of making a commitment and gathering the courage to work through obstacles is what creates both new capabilities and confidence.

  • Confidence. After a breakthrough, you experience a new level of confidence that allows you to commit to an even bigger breakthrough and a greater sense of confidence. The process repeats itself.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just start with the confidence that we’re on the right track? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The Four Cs happen in this order for a reason. Without courage, there are no breakthroughs.

Every successful entrepreneur – that is, one who continually multiplies his or her growth – has mastered this four-step process. Yet each time they make a new commitment, they still have to go through that dreaded period of courage.

While they may look back and agree that every breakthrough followed the Four C’s process, they still try to design a future filled with breakthroughs, where courage isn’t part of the equation. That’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t matter how successful you are. The only way to develop new capabilities and experience new breakthroughs is to commit to new goals that carry no promise of success.

Anyone committed to exponential 10X growth – either in business or in their career – must be willing to go through periods of courage again and again. That acceptance is what makes the difference.

Continually learn and unlearn

Very few jobs remain the same over time, which means that the demands of leaders and managers are continually evolving. The great ones are continually learning, driving themselves to get better even while they know full well that they cannot achieve perfection.

  • Broaden your perspective. Today’s leaders are highly observant and flexible. They can consider multiple angles to create general guidelines that help make sense of what’s going on around them. They’re open to receiving information from conflicting sources and can distill complexity.

  • Be a problem solver. Kicking butt and taking names is a thing of the past. Leaders today need to consider issues from the perspective of making things better versus assigning blame. They balance vision with getting the right things done.

  • Develop self-awareness. Great leadership starts internally. Today’s leaders strive to become more aware of their own intentions as well as their impact on others. They admit their mistakes and learn from them. They know that much of what got them into their role won’t be what carries them into continued success.

  • Improve your communication skills. Be specific, direct and candid with others. Great leaders are transparent with their agendas and really listen to what others have to say rather than simply planning their next response.

  • Think strategically. Leaders need to take a broad, long-term perspective in dealing with today’s issues and balance it with the pressure to produce short-term results. Understand and appreciate the current state while recognizing the possibilities.

  • Think globally. Our world is becoming increasingly smaller. Leaders need to appreciate and leverage diversity and grow more innovative and proactive. Work on anticipating problems and opportunities and identifying new markets and products.

Making partner is ultimately about skills and personality attributes coming together. The list above is a big one, but you don’t have to work on all of them at once. Create a list of actions and commit to them. Have the courage to become someone who can handle the challenges that come with running a business in a way that feels authentic to you. In the process, you’ll create a career and a future for yourself that will make you aspire to become a partner.

Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., has been lauded for her industry expertise in human resources and training. She is often called the “go-to person” for solutions to the profession’s staffing crisis, citing her wise advice on hiring – and keeping – employees for the rest of their careers. Sandra developed the P3 Leadership Academy and hosts regional training sessions throughout the country. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance and a certified KolbeTM trainer, advising firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

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