Some partners are downright difficult. This makes them awkward cogs to fit into the firm set-up, particularly where they are top producers, run important clients or contribute in other meaningful ways. And let’s face it, all too often they are and do.
It is important therefore to work out an approach you can use for such partners. Simply leaving it to chance, or the passage of time and hoping it will go away, or that you won’t have to deal with it, is not an option. They won’t go away and are bound to come back and haunt you and the partnership from time to time. Far better to be prepared with a sensible framework, and a willingness to take action.
Too often there is something of the bully in difficult partners, and you need to be clear to yourself and such partners that you will not be intimidated into non-action. Otherwise you are sure to lose credibility in the eyes of your partners and of course will not make any inroads in dealing with the challenging partner. You also won’t feel very pleased with yourself and your overall confidence may begin to suffer. Unfortunately, the way law firm leaders and senior managers deal with these situations offer very painful and sometimes very visible tests of leadership.
In my last post I covered a few things you should not do in such situations. Let’s now consider what you should do. In the first instance, there are what I would call fundamentals:
- make sure your values (or cultural attributes or guiding principles as the case may be) cover things like un-partnerlike or ‘difficult’ behaviour.
- ensure your partner performance criteria measure adherence to such values and/or behaviours.
- be consistent in all your dealings. This means treating the difficult partner no differently to others – they still need to be shown the same respect, given a fair hearing and such like. Equally, don’t treat them with kid gloves because they are difficult; other partners who may have slipped up in some or other way and been managed rigorously will be watching whether you are even-handed in your dealings.
- be clear that the solution is going to come from the difficult partner, not from you, from the firm or some written document. Somehow you are going to have to get him or her in the right frame of mind, and suitably motivated, to solve the problem.