This research represents a ground-breaking, in-depth study into leadership dynamics in professional service firms. It aims to:
- Identify who the leaders of professional service firms really are
- Examine how they exert influence over their peers
- Analyse how they enact and resolve complex internal power dynamics
This initial report for practitioners presents emerging themes from the
research - data collection and analysis are continuing.
Chapter 2, Conceptualising leadership in professional service firms, presents a new way of thinking about leadership in this context. It outlines the distinctive challenges of leading professionals, highlights the paucity of research in this area, and presents a framework for conceptualising leadership in professional service firms: the Leadership Constellation.
Chapter 3, Research study, presents a brief overview of the
firms studied and describes how the research was conducted.
Chapter 4, Ambiguous authority and hidden hierarchy,
explains how leaders of a professional service firm have been able to act
decisively to restructure their partnership, in spite of lacking the formal
authority to do so. In the process, a hidden hierarchy is revealed within the
highly ambiguous authority structure.
Chapter 5, When everyone and no one is a leader, identifies
how members of a professional service firm have developed strong social control
mechanisms which enable them to act as if everyone is a leader, and to enjoy
high levels of personal autonomy. But when faced with a cost-cutting crisis,
the Chairman emerges as clearly 'in charge'.
Chapter 6, Leadership meltdown, explains how the
distractions of integrating a series of international mergers put severe strain
on leadership dynamics within a professional service firm. The Chairman and the
CEO find their positions undermined by powerful practice heads. The
Chairmanship election exacerbates but ultimately also resolves the leadership
Chapter 7, Leading without appearing to do so, shows how
management professionals (e.g. CFO accountants) can become highly influential
within the leadership of professional service firms, whilst remaining outside
The concluding chapter, Emerging themes, focuses on three
core themes emerging from the ongoing study:
Power in Ambiguity - How ambiguous authority can be a
source of power for those with the interpersonal and political skills to
understand and exploit it.
Significance of Social Embeddedness - How the trust that
develops among professionals can both help and hinder effective leadership
dynamics - and how social control systems can 'manufacture' trust in the
absence of social embeddedness.
Prevalence of Politics - How politics and political action
are rife in professional service firms, though leaders need to maintain the
illusion that they are apolitical - which is in itself the act of a highly
In conclusion the report identifies what makes an effective leader in a professional service firm and poses some questions to consider about leadership in your firm.
This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain.