This was an interesting question which dropped into my inbox. First let me give you the back story. The question came from a highly senior technical specialist who had been head-hunted from a small firm, for a senior role in a top 5 firm. The technical specialist, let’s call them Sheila, was being promised partnership track if she made the move.

All was going well for Sheila. She had made it down to the last two. However, the feedback from the previous interview was the hiring firm were worried about Sheila’s leadership ability.

What does leadership actually mean? One way of thinking about the difference between leadership and management is:

Leadership is about doing the right things

Management is about doing the things right

Or put it another way:

Management is about keeping the ship afloat

Leadership is about successfully sailing the ship into uncharted waters

However, neither of these definitions are useful in this context. I prefer Rob Goffee’s definition of leadership:

Why should anyone follow you

In other words, when a firm is asking about your leadership ability as a senior (or even junior) lateral hire, they are asking about your ability to:

1) create a vision and way forward (strategy) for your part of the practice

2) gain the hearts and minds of your team and other partners to your vision and strategy

3) move the ship which is your department so they start to implement your strategy

If a headhunter asked you about your leadership ability, could you provide examples that demonstrated these three things?