How the Managing Partner Manages the Partners

Silhouettes of three business partners talking against a window in an officeIt’s a people job.

By Marc Rosenberg
The Role of the Managing Partner

This is a saying I developed about partners that stands as tall today as it did 20 years ago: “As the partners go, so goes the firm.”

MORE: Overarching Authority That Managing Partners Must Have | Exceptional Managing Partners Offer Their Advice | Why Management Is the #1 Key to the Firm’s Success | Herding Cats: Advice for Managing Partners
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This means that the partners are the drivers of the firm’s success. To be sure, nonpartner personnel are critically important to the firm’s success, but nowhere near the level of the partners, who

  • Bring in the clients
  • Keep the clients
  • Help clients grow
  • Satisfy clients’ needs by cross-selling services
  • Mentor staff, helping them learn and grow
  • Embrace the firm’s core values and spread the word to others
  • Manage the firm and provide leadership to all

Managing partners would love nothing better than for all the partners to consistently perform at such high levels that they don’t need to be managed. But such is not the case. Not even close.

One of the most important aspects of the managing partner’s job is to manage and supervise the partners’ behavior and performance, helping them focus and succeed in the areas listed above. This post explains how good managing partners do this.

The Supreme Challenge in Managing Performance

The biggest challenge is to deal with old-school, damaging attitudes about what it means to be a partner. Examples:

  • “I worked my way up the ladder and made partner. That means I made it!”
  • “I have acquired such a high level of skill, knowledge, experience and judgment that no one needs to manage me.”
  • “Being a partner gives me the inalienable right to do whatever I want whenever I want. Trust me. I know what I am doing.”
  • “I’m an owner of this firm. No one tells me what to do. As an owner, I have a right to be informed of everything that’s going on in this firm.”

One might be tempted to summarize these statements as “Being a partner has its rank and privilege.”

Wow! What’s a managing partner to do? How can partners with attitudes like these be managed? All is not hopeless. Read on!

Management Is a People Job

In their book “Managing For Dummies,” authors Bob Nelson and Peter Economy have this to say:

“Management is a people job. If you’re not up to the task of working with people, helping them, listening to them, encouraging them and guiding them, then you shouldn’t be a manager.”

Easily the most important and impactful technique for managing partner behavior and performance is face-to-face communication with the partners. Anyone who aspires to be a great managing partner should practice the principles of the best book on management ever written: “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. The book says there are three secrets to being a good manager and each of them takes only about one minute to do.

  1. One-minute goal setting: Make it clear what the responsibilities are and what the person is accountable for.
  2. One-minute praisings: Give crystal-clear, periodic feedback to others on how they are doing. Praise people immediately. Be specific. Shake hands or touch people (appropriately!) in a way that makes them feel good about their success. Catch them doing something right.
  3. One-minute reprimands: Give crystal-clear feedback when people fall short of expectations. Be specific. Give the feedback in a style that communicates unhappiness with the behavior; don’t attack them as a person. Reassure them that you think well of them and that they are highly valued. You will be successful with the one-minute reprimand when you really care about the welfare of the person you are reprimanding.

Other philosophies of “The One Minute Manager”: 

  1. The best minute you spend is the one invested in people.
  2. Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
  3. Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers. Don’t let their appearance fool you.

Another way of understanding the importance of management as a people job and the power of face-to-face communications is a passage from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” You may be more familiar with the movie and Broadway musical version, “My Fair Lady.” Professor Higgins is an arrogant, pompous man of wealth. He brags to his friend Colonel Pickering, a sweet, kind man with gentlemanly ways, that he can transform a Cockney working-class girl (Eliza) into a lady.

This passage, delivered by Eliza to Higgins and Pickering, has always been a favorite of mine because it articulates what a great manager is:

“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will.

“But I know I can be a lady to you, Colonel Pickering, because you treat me as a lady and always will.”

The message: People who feel good about themselves produce better results.

2 Responses to “How the Managing Partner Manages the Partners”

  1. Lee Frederiksen

    Very nice post Mark. I especially liked your final point. As a psychologist I can attest to the truth of that point. Well done.

  2. Ed Mofrad

    Enjoyed reading the article!


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