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The Best Professional Services Firms Demonstrate Why Leadership Matters

 The Best Professional Services Firms Demonstrate Why Leadership Matters

Leadership & Management


Professional service firms sell their knowledge and expertise to others. Whether it’s a consulting firm helping an organization solve a unique problem, a doctor helping a patient with a medical issue, or a professional association supporting its members, these service firms are often called upon to lead challenges, transformations and shifting priorities. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, these firms have been tasked with leading their clients through the crisis. One of the differentiators for the Professional Service organizations on this Best Workplaces TM List is how well they have lead their own people through these unprecedented times. The strong leadership demonstrated by these firms is something that can be emulated across all industries and there are some key lessons we can learn from how they have managed.

Because of how they are structured, professional service organizations have always faced the unique challenge of finding the right balance between providing the systems required to do great work and respecting the autonomous nature of the work their people do. Their people are typically highly motivated, accomplished, self-starters who often work remotely and are responsible for a wide range of decisions. As the pandemic changed the working landscape, organizations across industries have had a small glimpse into this balancing act with the disruption to workplaces and the rise of working virtually. Leading people when traditional structures are being rethought is daunting, and yet it’s a challenge strong leaders are well prepared for. As we recognize the firms on the Best Professional Services Firms list, three key leadership lessons emerge that we can all learn from.


Amidst confusion and uncertainty, people look to their leaders and managers for guidance and a sense of security. They need to know their leaders are looking out for them as well as making sure they are making solid decisions for the business as a whole. This level of dependability is vitally important and is one of the elements that distinguish the Best Professional Services Firms on our list. In fact, well over 90% of employees at the organizations on this list confirm their leaders can be depended on as demonstrated by their responses to statements like the following:

96% agree with the statement 'My manager is honest and ethical in its business practices.'

93% agree with the statement 'My manager’s actions match their words.'

92% agree with the statement 'I can ask my manager any reasonable question and get a straight answer.'

Improving dependability requires a commitment to taking ownership for one’s behaviours and being more consistent. Here are some traits dependable leaders possess:

  • Dependable leaders hold themselves accountable and they make sure to hold their team accountable too.
  • They establish clear expectations and use concise language to ward off ambiguity.
  • They model behavior that is consistent with the organization’s values.
  • They respond to people’s questions openly and honestly. If they don’t have an answer they promise to find out. If they can’t divulge information at a particular time they are transparent about the reasons why.
  • They honor their commitments.
  • They apologize when they make mistakes or fall short of expectations.


With the rise of virtual and remote work during this pandemic and into the future, empowerment is vital. For work to flow efficiently, people have to be trusted to make decisions with fewer layers of authority and more autonomy. Because they have been using virtual work models for years, professional service firms are well versed in empowerment and understand it leads to increased employee satisfaction and productivity. This is certainly something organizations in all industries can improve upon and as their responses indicate, employees in the Best Professional Services Firms are already enjoying high levels of empowerment:

94% agree with the statement ‘My manager trusts people to do a good job without watching over their shoulders.’

93% agree with the statement ‘People here are given a lot of responsibility.’

93% agree with the statement ‘My manager recognizes honest mistakes as part of doing business.’

When you empower employees they are given more responsibility to make decisions. It is the antithesis of micromanaging and allows everyone, leaders and employees, to stretch their level of accountability in a positive direction: 

Encourage leaders to:

  • Establish clear expectations
  • Learn to delegate more effectively
  • Provide supervision in supportive ways with lots of communication and feedback

Encourage employees to:

  • Learn to connect individual goals with the organization’s strategic goals and vision
  • Become more adept at solving their own problems.
  • Own their mistakes and understand how setbacks contribute to overall learning.


As leaders it’s always important to be appreciative of employees’ contributions and most leaders will say they express their thanks often. Intentions don’t always match reality though and employees may end up feeling less appreciated than they should. Appreciation is also much more than thanking someone for a job well done – it’s conveying to employees that their ideas are valued and that they themselves are valued.  This element of leadership is easy to lose sight of, particularly when faced with adversity, competing priorities and when working remotely.  The fact that the Best Professional Service Firms on our list received resounding confirmation of some key appreciation practices is a testament to their leadership. 

92% agree with the statement ‘My manager shows appreciation for good work and extra effort.’

92% agree with the statement ‘My manager genuinely seeks and responds to suggestions and ideas.’

94% agree with the statement ‘I can be myself with my team.’

Appreciating people can be both overt and subtle and deciding when and how and for whom you take the various approaches is something that requires some consideration. Think too about showing appreciation for ideas, innovation, inclusion and self care and align your corporate values with these elements. Some practices to consider:

  • Celebrate individual and team achievements.
  • For individual recognition consider whether the person would prefer public or private praise.
  • Notice effort as well as result.
  • Encourage people to take care of themselves and not work to burnout.
  • Encourage innovation
  • Be positive and reframe setbacks as learning experiences.
  • Champion inclusion and ensure everyone know their contributions are valued
  • Celebrate bringing one’s whole self to work everyday

Dependability, empowerment and appreciation are three of many leadership behaviours that we can emulate and it’s clear that for the organizations on this Best Workplaces TM list these characteristics have helped them thrive. As we begin to recover some normalcy and create new norms of working, attending to the leadership behaviours within our organizations will help create environments where everyone feels valued, where everyone can contribute meaningfully and where people feel safe and protected.

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About Great Place to Work®

Great Place to Work® is the Global Authority on Workplace Culture. We make it easy to survey your employees, uncover actionable insights and get recognized for your great company culture. Learn more about Great Place to Work Certification.

Nancy Fonseca
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