How to lead your fellow rainmakers


In conventional corporate settings, leaders are expected to inspire and direct their employees—leading is something they do to followers rather than with colleagues. But in professional service firms the leadership dynamics are different, because the power relationships are different. Consulting, accounting, and law firms and investment banks tend to be full of highly opinionated rainmakers, who don’t easily accept the role of follower—and may be just as unwilling to act as leaders. In this context, leadership is a collective, not an individual, endeavour, created through interactions among powerful peers, none of whom feel that they have to follow anybody.

It’s fascinating to observe but challenging to engage in. In my article for Harvard Business Review I present cases studies of highly successful (and highly unsuccessful) leaders. I outline five guiding principles for professionals who harbour leadership ambitions in this most challenging of environments.  And I discuss three distinct yet interconnected dynamics—establishing legitimacy, manoeuvring politically, and negotiating perpetually—that explain how collective leadership actually happens among professionals.