Follow my leader

Cultivating leaders has not always been a priority for accountancy practices.  Paul Denvir suggests steps firms can take in selecting and developing staff and ensuring a more successful future.

Research suggests that, in most marketplaces, the best-led organisations are the ones that are consistently most profitable, in part because they are able to attract and keep the brightest and best people.  Nonetheless, in our experience of working with many accountancy firms, the strength and depth of leadership capability in these organisations is patchy.

Amid some examples of excellent practice there is much mediocrity.  In fact significant numbers of firms seem to ignore the leadership capabilities of their people almost completely, or they wait until someone reaches a high-level of leadership position before deciding to develop them in this key area.

Build it from day one

In contrast, many non-professional-services organisations build leadership capability into their people from day one.  They recognise that leadership ability is necessary for most roles at almost every level of the business and they know that it will not suffice to give the managing partner a ‘masterclass’ on his arrival at the top if he or she has not already developed and practised key leadership skills throughout his career.

Leadership skills should be developed in stages as a person’s career progresses.  Each stage must be mastered before moving on to the next stage as each element builds on the one before.  In the box, we identify four stages that might occur in the career of an accountancy professional and suggest some of the key capabilities and attributes necessary to lead at each stage.

Selection and development

Can all of these capabilities be developed?  Perhaps more than would seem obvious.  Nonetheless, in developing the leaders of the firm, it is clear that selection of the right candidates should go hand in hand with providing the right development at the right time and in the right way.  The result?  Outstanding leaders at every level driving the firm towards ever greater success. 

 Key to leadership skills

Stage 1 : Self-management

Key capabilities / attributes:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-control
  • Energy
  • Goal orientation
  • Doing the important
  • Achievement motivation
  • Trustworthiness
  • Attitudes to setbacks
  • Self-belief / self-confidence
  • Working with others
  • Interpersonal skills

Stage 2 : Leading peers and project teams

Key capabilities / attributes:

  • Empathy and interest in others
  • Influence and persuasion skills
  • Negotiating skills
  • Conflict resolution

Stage 3 : Leading and managing others

Key capabilities / attributes:

  • Empowering others
  • Motivating others
  • Consistency and integrity
  • Setting the example
  • Measurement

Stage 4 : Leading the firm

Key capabilities / attributes:

  • Selecting the leadership team
  • Tuning into the ‘corporate will’
  • Listening to clients
  • Willingness to lead change
  • Setting a vision
  • Personal projection – vision articulation
  • Personal humility

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