We often get asked from up-and-coming leaders what we think it will take for them to become partner. We believe that there are certain criteria and results an individual is expected to achieve to be considered for partnership. While some current partners in firms may argue that they’ll “know a partner when they see it” or that partnership behavior is subjective, we suggest that partner groups clearly outline the objective expectations and measures for partner eligibility.umbrella Our Partner Candidate Criteria Template can help partner groups begin to identify their specific must haves for new partners. More “subjective” partner attributes, like demonstrating leadership qualities or upholding the firm’s core values can be rated by superiors, subordinates and peers on a scale of 1-4 to make them measurable. Feedback can then be provided as to what the individual is doing well or needs to change to improve their score.

Your firm’s path to partner and the specific expectations to become partner should be defined by your leaders and shared with your up-and-comers. Young leaders expect it and current leaders need it to understand their true pipeline of future leaders getting ready to take on new leadership roles. It will also help leaders determine the most important criteria for the firm at that time. The criteria may not all apply to every partner candidate, because sometimes you need to make a more technical partner, sometimes you need a bigger rainmaker, or sometimes you need a great people developer. Assessing future leaders against the needs of the firm will help bring the talents and strengths needed into the partner group.

That said, we can pinpoint one lynch-pin to becoming a partner in your firm and that is to distinguish yourself. According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, distinguish is defined as, “to recognize or understand the difference between two things, or to provide a quality that makes someone or something different or special.”

Most people in your firm probably perform their duties satisfactorily, but only a few will be considered for advancement when the opportunity arises. To stand out among your peers, you need to know how you are perceived by others and your impact on others. To succeed and be poised for promotion to partner, you need to also stand out – to distinguish yourself from others by delivering unique value.

How do you distinguish yourself from others that makes you unique, special or different? What is your unique contribution as a leader and how have you distinguished yourself by making a difference for the firm, your team members and/or your clients? The better you know your strengths and weaknesses, the better chances you have to focus on your strengths and move ahead to a leadership role. Some ways you can leverage your strengths to contribute to your firm and distinguish yourself in your firm, include:

  • Develop new business – by providing new services to existing clients or bringing in new clients to the firm
  • Increase efficiencies – by eliminating “wasteful” steps, improving speed through updated processed or leveraging the staff at the right levels of work required
  • Start a new initiative – internally, such as implementing flex programs or remote audit work for select clients, or externally, such as a launching a new specialty service or industry niche
  • Develop team members – by providing mentoring and experiential opportunities that lead team members to promotion or developing competency models and training plans by level that provides a clearer path for progression
  • Spearhead a program to help young professionals pass the CPA exam – by holding study groups, helping young professionals timeline their steps to study, take and pass each part, and provide support and accountability through the process

These are just a few ideas for how you can build future capacity in your firm and make a bigger difference. I encourage you to seek out your partners and ask them what type of distinctive performance they’d most like to see from you – how would they like you to make your mark?

Your partners are looking for leaders who are exceeding at their job, fully engaged and care about making the firm better. When you step up and stand out, others will take notice – especially your partners!

What will you do to stand out and become a future leader in your firm? What actions can you take today to distinguish yourself and set yourself on the path to partner? Please post a comment and share so others can learn from your initiative and ideas!