Being a Partner

Article 26 September 2023

The word ‘Partner’ is used a lot in organisational life; from describing relationships between strategic functions and their internal business units, to how suppliers try to manage their relationships with their clients. 

But nothing has so much resonance as the term ‘Partner’ in Professional Services firms. It is both a title and an indication of wider responsibility, a sign of status and a commitment to broader organisational stewardship, if not co-ownership.

Recently we've been working with one of our Professional Services clients, with this year’s intake of new Partners. We feel very privileged to be with them at this stage of their career and we have some wonderful deep and exploratory conversations about this transition, about what it really means to be a Partner in a large firm. 

We know for these new Partners the journey to this stage might have been a combination of both exhaustion and exhilaration. The pursuit of the Partnership role becoming an end in and of itself, rather than what it represents in terms of responsibility and accountability. Whatever the individual experience it will have asked questions, posed challenges and inspired the start of a whole new career journey.

How can you prepare for this next phase?


“In other words, change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture."

William Bridges


This work put me in mind of my own journey to Partner and how I felt 16 years ago when I became a co-owner at Sheppard Moscow, and so I thought I would share a few thoughts about the things I wish I’d known about earlier in my Partnership career.    

  1. There is a surrender of some independence and ‘lone wolf’ tendencies, as instead you begin thinking about your contribution to the collective, balancing the broader firm and its success with your own targets and goals – trusting in shared success. This can be a challenge as independence and entrepreneurialism, that fulfilment found in meeting targets, have likely been significant contributors to your success up to this point.
  2. We hear it often from our professional services clients: partnership can be lonely. The combined weight of business targets and responsibilities for others can create health and relationship challenges in the longer term. So invest in and develop networks and relationships with people who care about you. As an old Chinese proverb states, ‘Dig your well before you are thirsty!’
  3. You will need to let go of taking things personally. There will be countless disappointments over the course of a professional services career. Perspective is needed in all of these things as it will help you build the resilience and bounce back. A ‘hold it lightly’ frame – will serve well.
  4. This leads to the fourth idea. The new role may make you stand a little taller but nothing about you has to dramatically change. Stay committed to being authentic (after all, you were promoted for being you). That will only come from being grounded and authentic and allowing those that follow you to see you, know you and care for you – as you see, know and care for them. One thing that may occur now, though, is that whatever you do will be seen and noticed by others. You can never NOT have an impact so try to ensure that it’s always a positive one. 
  5. Finally – speaking of tiredness and busyness – this will of course now be part of your life. It sounds trite to trot out the usual cliches about taking exercise, sleep, eating right etc. We all know that already. But only you can manage your boundaries. It is no one else’s responsibility and you will be risking all sorts of health and relationship issues if you don’t establish early on the mechanisms that will keep you grounded and rested. 

In his book ‘Transitions’, William Bridges talks about the importance of ‘endings’ and ‘letting go’, in order to successfully embrace a new beginning and for me at least, I certainly needed to realise that ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’.  And getting there is a life’s work!

Sheppard_Moscow_Headshots_189.jpg Deborah Gray