First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals

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Whether you have just been appointed as a group leader or you are a battle-scarred veteran, you know that managing professional people is difficult!

  • Intelligent professionals are often free-agents, accustomed to having autonomy to work on grueling assignments with little supervision, and always relentlessly demanding of themselves and others. How do you actually add value as a group leader, or even get these people to accept your guidance?
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Overview

Whether you have just been appointed as a group leader or you are a battle-scarred veteran, you know that managing professional people is difficult!

  • Intelligent professionals are often free-agents, accustomed to having autonomy to work on grueling assignments with little supervision, and always relentlessly demanding of themselves and others. How do you actually add value as a group leader, or even get these people to accept your guidance?
  • How do you deal with those oh-so-talented but oh-so-annoying professionals who exhibit attitude problems or are just exceedingly difficult to work with, when you need them but they needle you?
  • How do you avoid unsettling group meetings where you meet for no clear purpose; people drift in and out at random times; the power players dominate discussions; and everyone brings along their favorite axe to grind?
  • How do you actually inspire your group to bone-satisfying performance?

In this strikingly unique "playbook," professional service experts Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister provide real-world examples, a wealth of self-evaluation materials, and concrete advice on stressful day-to-day management issues that every leader of professionals will welcome. The authors offer penetrating insights into the basics of coaching, dividing their attention equally between energizing and guiding the individual performer and the group.

There has never been a book quite like this. First Among Equals is essential reading for practice leaders and group heads in the professional sector as well as managers of highly talented, technical knowledge workers anywhere. The lessons and learnings presented herewill give you insights and action tips to help you provoke and inspire your people to their full potential.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Organizations are more successful when they mold highly talented individuals into a cohesive group. But most talented people especially professionals hate to be managed. How to resolve this tension is the subject of this tightly focused, effective book by consultants McKenna (Herding Cats) and Maister (Practice What You Preach). Recognizing that all groups of professionals are different, the authors don't set off to create sweeping rules. Rather, they divide the task of leading groups of professionals into three parts what one must accomplish as the leader; how one wants to interact with individual members of the group; and how one wants to deal with the group as a whole and then offer concrete suggestions. A big part of this book's appeal is the authors' inherent understanding of how professionals resist overtly and otherwise being managed. Not surprisingly, McKenna and Maister spend a great deal of time explaining strategies for getting colleagues to agree to being led. They are particularly effective in outlining approaches for dealing with talented prima donnas (e.g., "listen to the individual's reasons for this behavior" and "inform the individual how improved behavior will improve his or her career"). This is a valuable resource for anyone in the position of trying to manage someone who was and still is, to a large extent a peer. (Apr. 9) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Managing people is difficult, particularly when a manager must lead a group of confident, intelligent professionals - often used to working with a certain amount of autonomy - to accomplish some task or essential goal. The authors of First Among Equals, two leading experts in the field of managing professionals, write that group leaders must be skilled not only in management basics (delegation, decision-making, running meetings, and so forth), but also in the "softer" skills of inspirational leadership practices.

A group leader must help his or her people, and team, win. A group leader must also be a catalyst between people with different skills and work styles, diverse experiences and (sometimes) conflicting priorities. The authors write that, to be successful, group leaders must have a willingness to focus on other people and their success, and the ability to influence others without being domineering.

Pushing for Greater Commitment
The authors suggest a number of actions group leaders should take to raise the levels of enthusiasm, excitement and performance in a group. First, they need to spend time informally coaching and developing both senior- and junior-level group members. The authors write that they must conduct formal performance reviews, as well as post-review coaching and counseling, when required. The authors also write that leaders must celebrate individual and group achievements, both small and large.

According to the authors, group leaders should also be in touch with other group members' clients, in order to help them better satisfy those clients and grow those relationships. They must also help the group explore new and innovative uses of technology to better deliver service and reduce costs.

Before a group leader can effectively manage a group, he or she must ensure that agreement has been reached (with superiors and fellow group members) on the "terms of engagement," or a mandate. The authors say this is important because everyone might not already share the same view of a mandate.

Terms of Engagement
While technical competence and knowledge will determine a portion of the effectiveness of a group leader, the leader's real success will turn on whether he or she is received by the team as a trusted advisor - that is, as a group leader to whom colleagues would turn eagerly and regularly for advice, guidance and counsel.

The authors write that a group will best achieve peak performance by unleashing the power of its people. This is done not by managing or leading them, but by inspiring them. There are individuals in every profession who strive to create big dreams, steeped in a strong set of personal values, in setting high standards and in striving to lift the spirits of human potential. Inspiration is all about the details, and the authors remind leaders that every conversation a person has with someone else advances, diminishes, or leaves neutral the relationship with that person.

Once a mandate is confirmed, relationships are built within the group, and the leader has learned what it takes to inspire and not simply lead, the group leader is ready to tackle in greater detail the leadership, management and coaching activities that are vital to being a group leader. He or she must be able to get his or her people to accept guidance, build rapport with them by listening to them, and deal with the exigencies that arise when working with different individuals.

Win Permission to Coach
The authors write that coaching is an activity, not a title or a position. It is the process by which a leader helps another person fulfill his or her potential, and it requires that the leader judge well when to intervene, and when to stay away. Indeed, before a group leader can even begin to develop and stretch people's talent, the leader must assess whether he or she has earned the "right" to do so.

The authors write that a manager must learn to deal with each individual according to the things that energize that individual. They suggest one place to start is to try to understand different people and how they like to be treated.

Once a group leader understands how to manage the members of a group as individuals, he or she must turn his or her attention to managing the group as a group. Not only must the group leader be able to understand and influence individual people; he or she must understand and influence a significant number of them simultaneously. The authors write that three things a group leader must do are build team trust, throw down a challenge, and give recognition.

Maintaining a high level of efficiency and success in a group is an ongoing process. The authors write that a group leader must always keep the future of the group in mind, tuning in to the things needed to build on successes. These things include nurturing juniors, integrating new people, and controlling the group's size.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Crammed with concrete advice and practical applications and examples, First Among Equals, helps group leaders develop the skills it takes to inspire, cajole and provoke people to reaching their full capabilities and promise. Its extensive lists and useful strategies offer straightforward advice and create an invaluable guide full of practical tips that provide leaders of professional workers with the skills to become more effective. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743225519
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick J. McKenna is a widely recognized expert on managing professional service firms and a partner in Edge International in Edmonton, Canada, a consulting firm serving professional service firms throughout the world. Mr. McKenna is the co-author of two Canadian Top 10 management bestsellers, Beyond Knowing and Herding Cats.

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Read an Excerpt

First Among Equals

How to Manage a Group of Professionals
By Patrick J. McKenna

Free Press

Copyright © 2005 Patrick J. McKenna
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743267583

Chapter One: Clarify Your Role

How, exactly, do you add value as a group leader?

Benjamin Haas is the managing partner in the Chicago office of the human resource consulting firm Towers Perrin, which has about 8,500 employees in seventy offices worldwide. He articulated the core truth about being a group leader:

The reality is that a leadership role is fundamentally different from the individual contributor role. A leader has fundamentally got to be somebody who is effective at making things happen for other people.

It's a real different mind-set in terms of what you do and how you impact the business. A leader has to bring a certain energy and optimism to the business. Part of our job is to build energy and enthusiasm. A leader must create a sense of shared ownership. The kinds of people we're managing want to feel like they are owners and not employees.

Another key ability is to assess people and determine what's going to be the right role for each individual that meets their needs and also allows them to contribute effectively to the organization.

We could not agree more with these comments. Your job as a group leader isto help your people, and your team, win.

Prior to becoming a group head, many people will have been asked to spend their whole working lives focusing on their own individual performance. The transition to being responsible for the performance of others is a difficult one for many to make, particularly since, in all likelihood, they still carry some client-service or production responsibilities. There is an issue here both of attitude (willingness to focus on other people and their success) and of skill (the ability to win influence over other people without being domineering). Skills can be taught; attitudes are harder to change.

John Schoenewald, CEO of AFSM International, noted:

To be effective, a leader must show he truly cares about others -- not only caring what the employee does but, as important, how he does it. I have seen leaders who are consumed with themselves and their personal goals. This is especially common in high-tech services. They don't have time nor do they take the time for coaching, as they are goal-oriented and desire results through technical solutions. In the high-tech services industry, technicians as well as managers, for the most part, fall into the category of loners. They are individuals who would rather work independently. That's why they choose a technical field and not the sales profession. This situation creates a challenge for effective teaming. Most technical teams I've managed have all the correct ingredients for success, but they try to achieve team results through individual efforts.

The best group leaders see themselves as catalysts. They expect to achieve a great deal, but know that they can do little without the efforts of others. It is challenging to manage a group of people with different skills, diverse experiences, a variety of work styles, and sometimes, conflicting priorities. Casey Stengel, the renowned former manager of the New York Yankees, once said, "Getting good players is one thing. The harder part is getting them to play together." As we shall see, it requires commitment, curiosity, and courage.

In order to help other people succeed, you will need a willingness to get most of your fulfillment from the success of others and a special set of skills: the ability to influence other people's emotions, feelings, attitudes, and their determination.

Jack Newman, now retired from managing a substantial and well-integrated group at global law megafirm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, clearly understood his role:

It's significant that I have two business cards. One is mine. The other is the group's. There are twenty lawyers on that group card, and it fits into the client's pocket just as easily as mine does. On that card, the client can find the right lawyer for the right question. Subliminally, the very existence of the card sends a message about the importance of the group as a group.

So, how do you help other people succeed (and play as a team)? Part of the answer may be about substance or content (they don't know what to do or how to do it), but this is rarely the biggest issue. Most often, you will be working with highly talented people who do know what to do and how to do it, but just aren't doing it. The causes may be numerous (fear, suspicion, lack of drive, attitudes, problems at home, or structural firm impediments) and you will find that most of the barriers have to do with feelings, attitudes, and emotions.

Your role, therefore, and your essential skill, will be to help people fulfill their potential by influencing these feelings, attitudes, and emotions. If you accomplish this, the raised performance level will result (among other things) in greater financial success for your people, you and your firm.

Note, however, that while money (or profitability) may be your goal, it is not what you must manage. What you must manage in order to get money is the energy, drive, enthusiasm, excitement, passion, and ambition of your people. Your primary skill (and the test of all your activities) must be whether or not you are able to raise the level of commitment and drive of those you influence.

Among the contributions you can make are the following:

a. Create energy and excitement

b. Be a source of creative ideas, and stimulate creativity in others

c. Forge teamwork

d. Help develop a common purpose that everyone can buy into

e. Help to solve problems and break down barriers for team members -- make it easier for them to succeed

f. Act as a sounding board -- help people think through their issues

g. Enforce standards (deal gently, promptly, but firmly with noncompliance)

h. Be a conscience ("gentle pressure") when self-discipline fails

i. Be a constant source of encouragement to improve effectiveness, quality, and efficiency

How would you rate yourself at each of these? How would those you lead rate you?

What a Leader Spends Time On

So, you are the leader of your group! Your goal is to help, but what do you actually do to accomplish this? Wh possible activities are you expected to do? Do your team members expect you to do these things? Do those you report to agree that you should be doing them?

1. Spend unscheduled, informal time with individual people (senior and/ or junior), serving as coach, to help them develop themselves and their practice.

2. Be knowledgeable about the development of junior people and be ready to suggest reassignments between projects in order to build skills and advance their careers.

3. Be in touch with other group members' clients to help them grow relationships, and to monitor client satisfaction and act as a conscience for everyone to excel at client satisfaction.

4. Help members of the team differentiate themselves from other competitors in a meaningful way that clients recognize and value.

5. Help people to stay current with the trends affecting the client industries they serve, the changes that will affect these clients, and their demand for the group's services.

6. Monitor the profitability of assignments conducted by group members and discuss results with them.

7. Devise methodologies to capture and share knowledge acquired while serving clients both within the group and across the firm.

8. Help the group explore new and innovative ways of using technology to better deliver services and reduce costs to clients.

9. Spend time recruiting, interviewing, and attracting potential recruits (junior and senior).

10. Spend time following up and actively helping members of the group execute their planned activities.

11. Initiate and run regular meetings to collectively plan the group's activities and initiatives for the coming qua appraisals of other (senior) people in the team for purposes of compensation.

13. Conduct counseling sessions with people on the basis of these performance appraisals.

14. Celebrate individual and group achievements -- the minor wins, not just the home runs; the good tries, not just the successes.

You will immediately see that most of these are time-intensive activities. In fact, we suggest that, as an exercise, you estimate how many hours in a year each activity would take, given the size of your group and the nature of its activities. You may find that there's not enough time to do them all, and you will have to choose: Will you try to do them all to a middling level, or will you try to do a selected few superbly? (We recommend the latter!)

As you review this list of activities, we invite you to ask yourself a few questions:

a. Which of these activities are most likely to raise enthusiasm, excitement and, hence, performance?

b. Which of these activities do those you counsel (or coach or lead) accept as valid (i.e., agree that you should perform them)?

c. Which of these activities do your superiors expect you to perform?

d. Have we left activities off our list that you think should be part of your leadership role? What else could you be doing that would raise the performance of your group and the individuals within it?

A group leader does not have to do all of the items we have discussed here. There are many versions of group leadership. However, if the group and the leader are to succeed, it is necessary to agree upon (and write down) the leader's role, responsibilities, accountabilities, and performance measures. You need both with those you supervise and those you report to. It is remarkable how infrequently this is done. (We discuss in the next chapter additional things that you need to negotiate with your firm leadership to fulfill your role properly.) The single biggest (and most certain) source of failure for a group leader is not having agreement in advance about what he or she should do!

Since many professional firms (and professional groups within corporations) do not have a history of activist group leaders, it is essential that to arrive at precise answers to these questions. You may think that everyone understands your role, but we have learned that it is safe to assume that while each person may be absolutely clear on what you should be doing, there as many different views as there are people you must deal with.

Group leaders cannot and must not attempt to impose their own view of their role on others: this will be doomed to fail. In a professional environment, people must cede permission to be coached, and this can only be done if the role, and its limits, are agreed upon and well communicated in advance.

The "Vision Thing"

Many management texts, and many of our clients, suggest that one key contribution of a leader is to provide or create a "vision." We are skeptics here, not on any theoretical grounds, but simply because as longtime consultants we have seen many professional environments, and have rarely met managers or leaders who have pulled this approach off. To us, a leader talking about his or her vision sounds too much like "Follow Me!" -- an appeal that is unlikely to work in professional environments.

We concede that there may be those individuals who, through personal charisma or the painting of an irresistible future, can get large numbers of professionals to follow them. We just don't think many people can pull it off. We call it "The Moses Strategy" -- going up into the mountain, receiving the word of God, and bringing it back to the children of Israel, saying "Here is the word of God. Get excited!" If you remember your Bible, you may recall that even Moses had to do it twice before he could get the attention of his audience!

Our point of view, based upon the most effective managers we have seen, is that they don't say "Follow me!" Instead, they say "Let me help you!" The management writers call this "servant leadership."

The key point is that the central goal of either approach is to get your people enthused, excited, and energized. Unless you have a very special skill, then we suggest you focus on what excites each of your people, not (just) on what excites you.


Here's how David described the group leader's role in Managing the Professional Service Firm:

A business group is like a sports team, filled with talented athletes who will only win if they truly fulfill their potential. People in business, like athletes, when left to their own devices, don't accomplish as much as they do when they are supported by a good coach.

The best managers really do add a very special value. First, through their actions, individual people accomplish more, and focus on more important things, than they would if left to their own devices. Second, the talents of powerful individuals are shaped into even more powerful teams, learning from and supporting each other.

How do good coaches achieve results? Effective practice leaders recognize that you rarely "turn on" people (or get them to change) through speeches, vision statements, or inspirational group meetings. They know that the only truly effective way to influence people is one-on-one, i.e., highly individualized, closed-door counseling. Above all else, they pay attention to the individual. They are close enough to what the individual is doing to be able to offer substantive suggestions. They are always "dropping by" to discuss "how's it going?"

Effective coaches go out of their way to celebrate successes and triumphs. They make constant use of approval, visibility, recognition, and appreciation. However, to be effective, good coaches must also be demanding. When a good athlete successfully jumps over the high bar, a good coach celebrates the accomplishment, and then -- raises the bar! ("Come on, you can do it.)" Coaches must be simultaneously chief cheerleader and chief critic -- one without the other is insufficient. Part of the skill of coaching is knowing how high to raise the bar, judging for each individual, separately, what next challenge will be stretching but achievable.

Good coaches build teams. Since most players will probably be more focused on their own personal performance, it is up to the coach to look out for the overall best interests of the group. The coach must identify opportunities for joint activities. This inevitably involves the coach in trading favors. ("Help us out on this one, and I'll do my best to look after you next time.") Good coaches pay significant attention to how the group's resources are being deployed, and whether or not all the bases are being covered.

Leaders are needed to be the guardians of the long-term. They are valuable when they act as the conscience of their colleagues: not necessarily giving them new goals, but helping them achieve the goals they have set for themselves. The manager's role is to be the reminder, the coach, and the supporter as individuals and teams struggle to balance today's pressures with longer-term accomplishments.

Copyright © 2002 by Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister

Continues...


Excerpted from First Among Equals by Patrick J. McKenna Copyright © 2005 by Patrick J. McKenna. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Pt. 1 Getting Ready
1 Clarify Your Role 3
2 Confirm Your Mandate 11
3 Build Relationships - One at a Time 27
4 Dare to be Inspiring 45
Pt. 2 Coaching the Individual
5 Win Permission to Coach 59
6 Listen to Build Rapport 75
7 Deal Differently with Different People 83
8 Help Underperformers 105
9 Tackle the Prima Donnas 113
10 Build Support for Change 121
Pt. 3 Coaching the Team
11 Clarify Group Goals 131
12 Develop Your Group's Rules of Membership 137
13 Build Team Trust 151
14 Throw Down a Challenge 165
15 Energize Your Meetings 175
16 Give Recognition 193
17 Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts 201
18 Deal with Your Crises 207
Pt. 4 Building for the Future
19 Nurture Your Juniors 221
20 Integrate New People 231
21 Control Your Group's Size 237
22 Measure Group Results 241
23 Why Bother? 259
Notes on Sources 267
Further Reading 273
Bibliography 275
Acknowledgments 277
Index 281
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First Chapter

Chapter One: Clarify Your Role

How, exactly, do you add value as a group leader?

Benjamin Haas is the managing partner in the Chicago office of the human resource consulting firm Towers Perrin, which has about 8,500 employees in seventy offices worldwide. He articulated the core truth about being a group leader:

The reality is that a leadership role is fundamentally different from the individual contributor role. A leader has fundamentally got to be somebody who is effective at making things happen for other people.

It's a real different mind-set in terms of what you do and how you impact the business. A leader has to bring a certain energy and optimism to the business. Part of our job is to build energy and enthusiasm. A leader must create a sense of shared ownership. The kinds of people we're managing want to feel like they are owners and not employees.

Another key ability is to assess people and determine what's going to be the right role for each individual that meets their needs and also allows them to contribute effectively to the organization.

We could not agree more with these comments. Your job as a group leader is to help your people, and your team, win.

Prior to becoming a group head, many people will have been asked to spend their whole working lives focusing on their own individual performance. The transition to being responsible for the performance of others is a difficult one for many to make, particularly since, in all likelihood, they still carry some client-service or production responsibilities. There is an issue here both of attitude (willingness to focus on other people and their success) and of skill (the ability to win influence over other people without being domineering). Skills can be taught; attitudes are harder to change.

John Schoenewald, CEO of AFSM International, noted:

To be effective, a leader must show he truly cares about others — not only caring what the employee does but, as important, how he does it. I have seen leaders who are consumed with themselves and their personal goals. This is especially common in high-tech services. They don't have time nor do they take the time for coaching, as they are goal-oriented and desire results through technical solutions. In the high-tech services industry, technicians as well as managers, for the most part, fall into the category of loners. They are individuals who would rather work independently. That's why they choose a technical field and not the sales profession. This situation creates a challenge for effective teaming. Most technical teams I've managed have all the correct ingredients for success, but they try to achieve team results through individual efforts.

The best group leaders see themselves as catalysts. They expect to achieve a great deal, but know that they can do little without the efforts of others. It is challenging to manage a group of people with different skills, diverse experiences, a variety of work styles, and sometimes, conflicting priorities. Casey Stengel, the renowned former manager of the New York Yankees, once said, "Getting good players is one thing. The harder part is getting them to play together." As we shall see, it requires commitment, curiosity, and courage.

In order to help other people succeed, you will need a willingness to get most of your fulfillment from the success of others and a special set of skills: the ability to influence other people's emotions, feelings, attitudes, and their determination.

Jack Newman, now retired from managing a substantial and well-integrated group at global law megafirm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, clearly understood his role:

It's significant that I have two business cards. One is mine. The other is the group's. There are twenty lawyers on that group card, and it fits into the client's pocket just as easily as mine does. On that card, the client can find the right lawyer for the right question. Subliminally, the very existence of the card sends a message about the importance of the group as a group.

So, how do you help other people succeed (and play as a team)? Part of the answer may be about substance or content (they don't know what to do or how to do it), but this is rarely the biggest issue. Most often, you will be working with highly talented people who do know what to do and how to do it, but just aren't doing it. The causes may be numerous (fear, suspicion, lack of drive, attitudes, problems at home, or structural firm impediments) and you will find that most of the barriers have to do with feelings, attitudes, and emotions.

Your role, therefore, and your essential skill, will be to help people fulfill their potential by influencing these feelings, attitudes, and emotions. If you accomplish this, the raised performance level will result (among other things) in greater financial success for your people, you and your firm.

Note, however, that while money (or profitability) may be your goal, it is not what you must manage. What you must manage in order to get money is the energy, drive, enthusiasm, excitement, passion, and ambition of your people. Your primary skill (and the test of all your activities) must be whether or not you are able to raise the level of commitment and drive of those you influence.

Among the contributions you can make are the following:

a. Create energy and excitement

b. Be a source of creative ideas, and stimulate creativity in others

c. Forge teamwork

d. Help develop a common purpose that everyone can buy into

e. Help to solve problems and break down barriers for team members — make it easier for them to succeed

f. Act as a sounding board — help people think through their issues

g. Enforce standards (deal gently, promptly, but firmly with noncompliance)

h. Be a conscience ("gentle pressure") when self-discipline fails

i. Be a constant source of encouragement to improve effectiveness, quality, and efficiency

How would you rate yourself at each of these? How would those you lead rate you?

What a Leader Spends Time On

So, you are the leader of your group! Your goal is to help, but what do you actually do to accomplish this? Which of the following possible activities are you expected to do? Do your team members expect you to do these things? Do those you report to agree that you should be doing them?

1. Spend unscheduled, informal time with individual people (senior and/ or junior), serving as coach, to help them develop themselves and their practice.

2. Be knowledgeable about the development of junior people and be ready to suggest reassignments between projects in order to build skills and advance their careers.

3. Be in touch with other group members' clients to help them grow relationships, and to monitor client satisfaction and act as a conscience for everyone to excel at client satisfaction.

4. Help members of the team differentiate themselves from other competitors in a meaningful way that clients recognize and value.

5. Help people to stay current with the trends affecting the client industries they serve, the changes that will affect these clients, and their demand for the group's services.

6. Monitor the profitability of assignments conducted by group members and discuss results with them.

7. Devise methodologies to capture and share knowledge acquired while serving clients both within the group and across the firm.

8. Help the group explore new and innovative ways of using technology to better deliver services and reduce costs to clients.

9. Spend time recruiting, interviewing, and attracting potential recruits (junior and senior).

10. Spend time following up and actively helping members of the group execute their planned activities.

11. Initiate and run regular meetings to collectively plan the group's activities and initiatives for the coming quarter.

12. Conduct formal performance appraisals of other (senior) people in the team for purposes of compensation.

13. Conduct counseling sessions with people on the basis of these performance appraisals.

14. Celebrate individual and group achievements — the minor wins, not just the home runs; the good tries, not just the successes.

You will immediately see that most of these are time-intensive activities. In fact, we suggest that, as an exercise, you estimate how many hours in a year each activity would take, given the size of your group and the nature of its activities. You may find that there's not enough time to do them all, and you will have to choose: Will you try to do them all to a middling level, or will you try to do a selected few superbly? (We recommend the latter!)

As you review this list of activities, we invite you to ask yourself a few questions:

a. Which of these activities are most likely to raise enthusiasm, excitement and, hence, performance?

b. Which of these activities do those you counsel (or coach or lead) accept as valid (i.e., agree that you should perform them)?

c. Which of these activities do your superiors expect you to perform?

d. Have we left activities off our list that you think should be part of your leadership role? What else could you be doing that would raise the performance of your group and the individuals within it?

A group leader does not have to do all of the items we have discussed here. There are many versions of group leadership. However, if the group and the leader are to succeed, it is necessary to agree upon (and write down) the leader's role, responsibilities, accountabilities, and performance measures. You need to come to agreement both with those you supervise and those you report to. It is remarkable how infrequently this is done. (We discuss in the next chapter additional things that you need to negotiate with your firm leadership to fulfill your role properly.) The single biggest (and most certain) source of failure for a group leader is not having agreement in advance about what he or she should do!

Since many professional firms (and professional groups within corporations) do not have a history of activist group leaders, it is essential that to arrive at precise answers to these questions. You may think that everyone understands your role, but we have learned that it is safe to assume that while each person may be absolutely clear on what you should be doing, there as many different views as there are people you must deal with.

Group leaders cannot and must not attempt to impose their own view of their role on others: this will be doomed to fail. In a professional environment, people must cede permission to be coached, and this can only be done if the role, and its limits, are agreed upon and well communicated in advance.

The "Vision Thing"

Many management texts, and many of our clients, suggest that one key contribution of a leader is to provide or create a "vision." We are skeptics here, not on any theoretical grounds, but simply because as longtime consultants we have seen many professional environments, and have rarely met managers or leaders who have pulled this approach off. To us, a leader talking about his or her vision sounds too much like "Follow Me!" — an appeal that is unlikely to work in professional environments.

We concede that there may be those individuals who, through personal charisma or the painting of an irresistible future, can get large numbers of professionals to follow them. We just don't think many people can pull it off. We call it "The Moses Strategy" — going up into the mountain, receiving the word of God, and bringing it back to the children of Israel, saying "Here is the word of God. Get excited!" If you remember your Bible, you may recall that even Moses had to do it twice before he could get the attention of his audience!

Our point of view, based upon the most effective managers we have seen, is that they don't say "Follow me!" Instead, they say "Let me help you!" The management writers call this "servant leadership."

The key point is that the central goal of either approach is to get your people enthused, excited, and energized. Unless you have a very special skill, then we suggest you focus on what excites each of your people, not (just) on what excites you.


Here's how David described the group leader's role in Managing the Professional Service Firm:

A business group is like a sports team, filled with talented athletes who will only win if they truly fulfill their potential. People in business, like athletes, when left to their own devices, don't accomplish as much as they do when they are supported by a good coach.

The best managers really do add a very special value. First, through their actions, individual people accomplish more, and focus on more important things, than they would if left to their own devices. Second, the talents of powerful individuals are shaped into even more powerful teams, learning from and supporting each other.

How do good coaches achieve results? Effective practice leaders recognize that you rarely "turn on" people (or get them to change) through speeches, vision statements, or inspirational group meetings. They know that the only truly effective way to influence people is one-on-one, i.e., highly individualized, closed-door counseling. Above all else, they pay attention to the individual. They are close enough to what the individual is doing to be able to offer substantive suggestions. They are always "dropping by" to discuss "how's it going?"

Effective coaches go out of their way to celebrate successes and triumphs. They make constant use of approval, visibility, recognition, and appreciation. However, to be effective, good coaches must also be demanding. When a good athlete successfully jumps over the high bar, a good coach celebrates the accomplishment, and then — raises the bar! ("Come on, you can do it.)" Coaches must be simultaneously chief cheerleader and chief critic — one without the other is insufficient. Part of the skill of coaching is knowing how high to raise the bar, judging for each individual, separately, what next challenge will be stretching but achievable.

Good coaches build teams. Since most players will probably be more focused on their own personal performance, it is up to the coach to look out for the overall best interests of the group. The coach must identify opportunities for joint activities. This inevitably involves the coach in trading favors. ("Help us out on this one, and I'll do my best to look after you next time.") Good coaches pay significant attention to how the group's resources are being deployed, and whether or not all the bases are being covered.

Leaders are needed to be the guardians of the long-term. They are valuable when they act as the conscience of their colleagues: not necessarily giving them new goals, but helping them achieve the goals they have set for themselves. The manager's role is to be the reminder, the coach, and the supporter as individuals and teams struggle to balance today's pressures with longer-term accomplishments.

Copyright © 2002 by Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2004

    Packed With Knowledge!

    This book is essentially a collection of practical checklists interspersed with quotations and anecdotes. It certainly meets its objective of collecting everything you need to know about managing a professional service firm¿s practice group. Patrick McKenna and David H. Maister present the nuts and bolts in a straightforward format. If you feel like you could use some help to do a better job of leading your group of highly trained individuals, if you¿ve just been promoted to the ranks of management and want some guidance or, worse, if you feel like you are herding cats ¿ in Maister¿s phrase ¿ instead of leading a committed team of professional people, we are pleased to recommend this complete toolbox to you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2002

    Exceptionally Valuable Guide

    There have been many books on group dynamics and teamwork in managing, but the authors deal with a relatively new phenomenon -- the practice group. There is virtually no problem in this otherwise complex structure of practice group management that this extraordinary book doesn¿t cover, including rules for participation, group goals, team trust, resolving interpersonal conflicts, dealing with crises and the problems of integrating new people and measuring group results. Managing any aspect of professional groups is always difficult, but the authors bring new dimensions and solutions to the problem, in an intelligent, focused, and effective breakthrough book. An absolute must for any law, accounting, or consulting firm, no matter what it¿s size.

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