The Transition to Greater Leadership

by Tim Bertschy
Heyl Royster

In 2014, I became the managing partner of Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C.—where I have practiced law for the entirety of my legal career, acted as a practice leader and served (and continue to serve) on the board of directors. I have been deeply involved with the firm for almost 40 years, yet the transition to my new role required that I examine the firm from a new perspective.

In the terminology of the business world, transitioning from a practice leader to managing partner is somewhat analogous to going from a business-unit leader to company CEO. In both situations, there is a shift from concentrating on one line of business to stepping back to get a 10,000-foot view of the entity as a whole. Yes, there are many transferrable skills learned in my prior position that will help in the new position—such as the ability to effectively delegate without micromanaging—but there are many differences as well.

In his book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael Watkins discusses the need to promote yourself into a new position. This is not in the sense of the word “promote,” meaning “self-aggrandizement,” but to promote yourself mentally into your new position by internalizing your ability to perform in your new role. Part of this evolution entails realizing that just doing all of the things you did before—only more of them—may not be the right approach.

Take Stock Of What You Have Inherited
A first step is to get a solid understanding of both the company overall and each of its business units. How you do this largely depends on your organization. In The First 90 Days, Watkins defines four types of business situations: Start Up, Turnaround, Realignment and Sustaining Success—each very different and each requiring a different approach.

So, for example, while a “Sustaining Success” approach may be effective for an established business unit that is highly functional, it may not be the right approach for a business unit that is in “realignment” mode. In assuming a new leadership position, you may want to evaluate the ways in which the business you previously managed is similar to or different from the business you currently manage. As a CEO, you want to examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of the company’s lines of business. In our case, we are taking a close look at the firm and all of its practices, as well as our client service teams.

You Can’t Go It Alone
Promoting yourself into your new position can require broadening your perspective from being an advocate of one business unit to becoming an advocate for all business units. In fact, you may have to go out of your way to prove you are egalitarian by purposely not showing favoritism for your former business unit.

In a higher-level position, you have to learn to operate on more of a macro level. You are not able to drill down into the inner workings of a business unit the way you could when you were a business-unit leader. You have to rely on your business-unit leaders and your staff (accounting, business development, IT, HR, etc.) to provide meaningful, management-level metrics and reports. It is also important to get a solid understanding of the caliber of leadership at every level—and how everyone fits (or doesn’t fit) into each of these groups.

Be Realistic
Not all practices or business units are equal, and some will be able to accomplish more than others. Certainly, you can use some of the best practices that you have learned at the business-unit level and apply them to other business units, but again, be mindful that what worked in one situation does not necessarily work in another.

How each business unit goes to market can vary dramatically. The trick is to get all of your component parts up to a certain “bar” of functionality, while at the same time allowing each business unit the autonomy and flexibility needed for it to tailor an approach that is going to be the most successful for its business situation and its clients. iBi

Tim Bertschy is managing partner of Heyl Royster and chair of the law firm’s Business & Commercial Litigation Practice.

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