I met with a CMO of a leading law firm a while back and he was describing how his firm's direction was determined by "Four hundred Partners sitting on an oil tanker, each with their own steering wheel". At the time I remember thinking how hard it must be to make any progress in such an environment. And indeed that'd be true, if the organisation were a single vehicle with a single direction of travel.
However, that is not the way to look at Professional Service organisations. Each of the Partners within a firm is essentially running a discrete business, making pragmatic, informed decisions about what is in the best interest of the firm from their unique perspective.
Professor Laura Empson argues that the very premise of leaders and followers is flawed in Professional Services and indeed "The problem with portraying yourself as a leader in a Professional Service Firm is that your most valuable colleagues are likely to resent being cast as your followers".
In this environment, the role of the leader is not to give direction and encourage followers, but to create a culture and provide the infrastructure to enable more leaders.
Professional services firms looking to grow in this way can look to a process, a way of demonstrating their expertise at scale and reaching the people that matter.
Experienced professionals need, or at least expect, extensive individual autonomy. This autonomy is justified by the requirement for professionals to preserve the right to make choices about how best to apply their specialist technical expertise to the delivery of customised professional services.