If You Haven't Even Thought About Becoming a Principal in Your Firm—These are The Questions You Should Ask
I recently caught up with a male friend who told me that he wanted to become a partner at his firm. He was looking for advice on how to get there more swiftly and efficiently.
This was particularly striking for me because I had *just* worked with a woman whose situation felt like the complete opposite.
The possibility of partnership had come up for her—she had been invited in. But she hadn’t been sure of what she wanted, and so the moment had passed.
The entire episode had triggered a huge existential crisis of her not knowing what she wanted in her career.
While I wish it were rarer, I see this pattern in women all the time.
We get an invitation—or a whisper of an invitation— to grow into the next level, and we freeze. We’re not sure what we want.
It shows up as a whole lot of “I don’t know.”
Here’s what I think is happening.
When we get the call to step up into the top-level role—especially if we’re in industries where not a lot of women are up top, we think….
It brings up fear and uncertainty in the form of ALL the reasons why we’re not right for the role, or it’s not right for us.
What if I can’t bring in the clients?
What if everyone’s relying on me, and I let them down?
I don’t have the gravitas to be that kind of leader. How will I succeed?
Will I have to give up my personal life and work around the clock?
Can I do this if I don’t want to work on Fridays?
And that’s exactly what happened to this woman. Moving forward into uncertainty, the possibility of not being good at the role. The possibility of being foolish for wanting something more. It brought up a whole lot of uncertainty and fear.
Which translated into “I don’t know.”
But she was lucky.
Because sometimes, we don't get “the call” to be promoted to principal or partner.
Because our leadership—our current principals, partners, and owners—think, “If she wanted this, she’d let us know.”
Or they don’t even think of us for partnership or higher level leadership because of a combination of gender bias, their own busyness, and the fact that we haven’t signaled our interest.
But one of the things that frustrates me most?
Some of us *don't even know* that ownership or high-level leadership is even *possible* for us.
A few weeks ago, I heard a successful woman principal of a firm speak about her path to ownership. It had never even occurred to her to want to become a principal until her husband, who was already a principal at another firm, suggested it.
I know some amazing women partners, and a number of them have this same story. Their husbands have navigated the path to ownership already. They show their wives the ropes and demystify the experience.
They open these women’s eyes to the possibility that they can be owners.
So when I work with women who have a chance to move into leadership or ownership but have maybe never even let themselves consider it, we don’t start with, “do you want be promoted to principal or partner?”
We start with, IF you wanted to get promoted to principal or partner…
….how would you get there, step by step?
…if you had to pick an ideal client, who would it be?
…If you had to deal with a firm challenge, how would you do it?
…If you wanted to have Fridays off but still needed to achieve the full impact required of your role, how would you do it?
We do this because it gets you past your fears and into the details. And the details paint a way better picture of what it will be like.
So you can really answer the question of “do I want this?” from a position of empowerment, resiliency, and creativity.