With most firms experiencing the succession of one or more partners or senior leaders over the next ten plus years, developing leaders is a must to ensure the sustainability of your firm. According to the 2012 (and 2008) AICPA’ PCPS Succession Survey, the number one challenge hampering the firm’s succession strategy is that “Senior partners feel that younger members of the firm are not ready for leadership positions.” That is why it is critical to ensure that your firm has a formal leadership development program that embraces all three of the critical elements to develop leaders to take on new roles when needed.

Before I address the three elements, it’s important to identify the specific results and/or outcomes (ROI) that your team members and the firm can expect from the investment of time and money in leadership development. Some of the typical outcomes firms can expect from leadership development programs include:

  • Team member benefits such as:
    • Developing an honest understanding of their talents and shortcomings and being able to openly discuss them with others, directing their efforts toward areas of strength and working to improve their shortcomings
    • Exhibiting and modeling the behaviors of a leader and role model which enhances overall firm engagement and can positively affect retention
    • Attaining new levels of performance, taking on additional responsibility and delivering more value to their teams and the firm overall in the areas of leadership, strategy, people and project management, and business development
    • Delivering specific results from the experiential assignments and projects
  • Firm benefits such as:
    • Identifying the strongest leaders within to tap for key leadership positions, enabling more effective succession strategies
    • Offering a competitive advantage in recruiting key leaders to the firm
    • Enhancing the firm’s ability to influence a consistent, leaderly culture
    • Improving the firm leaders’ ability to strategize for and manage the firm and key practice areas and business functions

When contemplating your leadership development program, ensure that it encompasses elements of the Three Realms of Leadership™ over time:

  1. Leading Self – developing individual leadership behaviors and exploring the example each leader establishes through their actions, behaviors and interactions
  2. Leading Others – leading, managing and motivating individuals and teams
  3. Leading Communities – leading and managing more complex initiatives and teams

In learning and development, there is a long-standing axiom called the 70-20-10 rule. It states that people learn 70% of their knowledge through experiential or on-the-job learning, 20% through one-on-one coaching, mentoring and guidance and 10% through traditional classroom or online training programs. As your people progress from developing themselves to developing others and then developing a practice area and/or the firm, incorporate the learning, experiences and coaching they will need at each of these levels. An effective leadership development program will include all three:

  • Traditional learning programs/courses in four areas of development (10-20%): Typically, firms approach learning from a CPE or course perspective, which is important, but it is only one component of an overall leadership development plan that should be contemplated. Effective training should include technical training (which is where the profession shines!) and also business processes, such as project management or sales methodology training; business acumen, such as practice or engagement economics; and “soft skills” training such as conflict management, people development and networking, too.
  • Experiences through projects and application of development areas (60-70%): – If you think about how you have become the leader you are today, you’ll probably attribute a lot of it to your experiences. That is why it is critical that firm leaders, HR professionals and career advisors intentionally design experiential project assignments, including shadowing others on client engagements, proposal meetings and career advisors sessions so your people can see others “in action.” In addition, experience can be gained in conjunction with courses or CPE-learning by assigning pre- and post-training reading and asking team members to make specific commitments for behavioral change, actions or deliverables to be undertaken to apply learning and achieve the learning objectives. Ask team members to return and report on their learning, the commitments they make from any training or coaching and the results (or roadblocks) they experienced by doing so.
  • Relationships with firm leaders and feedback mechanisms (20-30%): – Your up-and-coming leaders want to learn from your firm’s leaders. This is especially true for your Millennials who want direct access to partners and other senior leaders. Ask your partners and senior leaders who naturally mentor and coach your up-and-comers to provide coaching and feedback to team members on a more formal basis. Ensure that you provide the coaches enough budgeted non-billable time to invest in your people (i.e. potentially delegate some of their client responsibility so they can focus on developing your people). Also consider creating an expectations document for coaching follow-up that will be utilized by in-firm coaches assigned to those in your leadership program. This ensures clear expectations and a consistent approach to coaching so that all team members can benefit equally from this learning element.

Embarking on the development and implementation of these meaningful programs to secure your firm’s future is one of the most important investments you can make. You will engage and retain future leaders and reap results for your current leaders and firm, too.

What are you doing in your firm to develop a pipeline of qualified leaders? Please post a comment and share so others can benefit, too!


P.S. We opened a second Transformational Leadership Program this year that will commence September 15th that you may want to consider to augment your firm’s leadership development needs!