Managing partners need a break to avoid 'leader fatigue' from pandemic pressures

Simon Marshall, of TBD Marketing, suggests law firm leaders should take time out to survey their strategic horizons this summer

Law firm leaders need to pause to review their strategic horizons Shutterstock

Even for high performers who work long hours and still delivering high-quality outputs, the past few months are without precedent.

I’ve spent 20 years in the offices of managing and senior partners and have seen stress, anger, tears and frustration (as well as laughter and joy, I might add). 

Now, though, what I am starting to see is fatigue. Drawn faces on usually approachable individuals who are beginning to lose their motivation. This period has been wearing, and you’ve done brilliantly to bring us this far.

Why should I take a break?

Imagine if I could promise you a sure-fire way to succeed over the coming months? If I could help you to better process and retain information? That’d give you a better sense of the bigger picture, enable more creative thinking and make you more productive as a leader? That’d leave you better equipped to make the right decisions for your organisation.

You’d probably bite my hand off.

Well, it’s called taking a break, and it’s necessary as we are entering a dangerous phase of the pandemic which is often characterised by ‘leader fatigue’.

I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the few people in the law firms I have worked at or with to be able to talk straight to leaders—discretion assured, with no risk to the partnership.

So, to all the law firm founders, managing partners, senior partners, practice heads and more, I say this: it’s time to take a break. Your health and future success of your business depend on it.

Why now?

You’ve done brilliantly at stewarding us through this initial survival phase. You’ve taken the actions you needed to take to keep your people safe, to keep the business running, to keep yourself and your family well. If no-one has taken the time to say so, then I’d like to acknowledge that now. 

It’s been a horrific few months, and you have personally made a difference to the lives of others. Please take a moment to let that soak in.

Undoubtedly, however, we are entering a new phase. New challenges must be tackled with a fresh perspective. This next phase is full of peril as you will need to juggle survival with getting the business to function fully again. 

Of course, you may have been thinking about this next phase for weeks, with a set of ideas and actions in place. In my opinion, it would be a misstep to approach this next phase without having a break to step back from the business.

Lessons from Osborne Clarke's growth

If I think of Simon Beswick’s successes as the leader of Osborne Clarke during my time there, I would say three main elements characterised it. First, there was financial stability and rigour. Second, there was the embedding of a sectoral strategy. Third, the internationalisation of the firm he had created.

I remember the busiest Monday of my career was one when Simon returned from holiday. We’d spent months successfully rolling out the sector initiatives, and the business was full-tilt on delivering against them. Apart from Simon, that is. He’d ‘done’ sectors by then and passed the baton on to another partner.

That Monday morning, I got maybe ten emails from him about internationalising the business: research to do, rankings to gather, things to do. He’d shifted gears. 

The rest, of course, is history; Osborne Clarke went from being a three-office firm with a loose ‘best friends’ arrangement with several continental European firms, to a truly international firm with a collective vision within the space of just four or so years.

The point is that he’d been able, while away on a short holiday, to reflect on what the firm needed. If he hadn’t taken that break, maybe he’d have continued with the sector strategy longer. Perhaps, as a result, the firm would have missed the opportunities it grasped due to some other factors. I don’t know. 

What I do know is that taking time away from the business for a few days was what gave him a chance to look at the challenges differently and set about delivering that.

What does this mean for you?

Many of the leaders I have spoken to recently have resisted taking a break for fear of how it will look. I’m not suggesting some luxurious holiday that sounds like you’ve lost touch with the challenges with which your people are struggling. 

Hopefully, that goes without saying.  Equally, I have news. Your people can see that you’ve worked yourself to the bone and they can see how tired you are. They need a leader firing on all cylinders, and that’s going to need you to put in place a deputy for a few days and to step back and see things differently.

So please, for you, your business and your people, take a break. You deserve it.

Simon Marshall is the founder and chief executive officer of TBD Marketing: his website is

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