Leadership is one of the top issues facing accounting firms today. We often hear firms say they can’t find or don’t have good leaders in their organization. As most of us know, leaders don’t usually fall off trees. In any organization, fostering leadership takes time and intention. As a current leader, you have to be a steward of developing leaders within your culture. According to dictionary.com?, stewardship is:
the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving
As firms attempt to create a culture centered on leadership, a key challenge many face is stepping aside to let the next generation step up. Whether you are the one stepping aside or the one stepping up, we collaborated with several leaders to identify 6 things you should be doing to help create a culture of leadership in your firm.
Current Leader Considerations
If you are a current leader, you have a responsibility to your organization to foster leadership. While there are many ways to do this, here are 3 considerations from industry leaders who are successfully navigating these waters.
- Identify future leaders and tell them
The biggest mistake firms make in fostering leadership is not directly communicating their intentions with their future leaders. Making the assumption that key players know they are future leaders or that they even want to be future leaders is not enough. Many times, key players don’t realize they are already on the track to leadership. According to Abby Dupree, Managing Partner of Carroll and Company CPAs, you first need to ask people if they are interested in leading. Once you know they are interested, you then need to make it clear you see them as a future leader of the organization.
- Set future leaders up for success
While there are natural born leaders, most leaders are built over time. In fact, John Maxwell’s third law of leadership in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, specifically states, “Leadership develops daily, not in a day”. Leadership requires experience, self-study, and practice. To foster leadership you must invest in your leaders by (1) training and educating them, and (2) providing opportunities for them to lead.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
The last consideration of fostering leadership in your organization is probably the toughest to put into practice. You can’t sweat the small stuff. Future leaders need to learn to take ownership, which means they need to feel safe making decisions. When people feel safe making a decision, “they learn more quickly and are cognizant of asking for advice.” (Tom Jordan, Managing Director of Digiovine, Hnilo, Jordan + Johnson). Even more importantly, they need the room to do it differently from you. “Everyone has their own style to approaching things. You look at the substance to it, but don’t change who they are.”
Future Leader Considerations
Fostering leadership in an organization isn’t just the job of the current leaders. Future leaders must help facilitate this transition by exhibiting the traits that help build trust with current leaders. Here are 3 things you can do now:
- Speak up
Whether it’s in a meeting or related to a role you aspire to be in, current leaders need to hear from you. They need to know you have an opinion and that you’re interested. Just because you have been some place for a while doesn’t mean they know where you want to go next. You have to make it crystal clear. The best way to do this is by asking what it will take for you to get to the role you aspire to be in and by volunteering to lead things. Don’t assume one conversation will convey that message either. You may have to go to bat a few times to get your message across.
- Communication skills
To lead people is to influence them and that requires excellent communication skills. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert writer or top-notch speaker. It does mean you have to be able to clearly articulate and deliver messages in a way that others can positively receive it.
- Be consistent
Trust is a core element of fostering an environment where current leaders feel comfortable letting go and handing over the reigns. To build that trust, you must not only do the things listed above, but “you must be consistent in your approach.” (Rebecca Turner, Partner, Digiovine, Hnilo, Jordan + Johnson) “People trust leaders they can rely on and a tempered viewpoint that limits high emotional swings up or down helps create that consistency.” The second thing that builds trust is doing what you say you will do; it will carry more weight in building trust than just about anything else because your actions will always speak louder than any words ever will.
I am believer that many accounting firms already have potentially great leaders in place. They simply need to foster an environment where those leaders can be developed. While the items above aren’t a comprehensive list, they will help you start your firm on the right path to bridging the leadership gap.
- What am I doing to be a steward of leadership development within my organization? (current leader)
- How do I personally learn to let go and let someone else step up? (current leader)
- What do I need to work on to build more trust and experience as a leader? (future leader)