Recognizing Traits of Effective Thought Leaders

Part 2 of a 3-part series of articles exploring how your firm can develop and support thought leaders.

Developing and nurturing thought leaders in your accounting firm requires a big investment of time and money.  You will want to make sure you get the best return on that investment, but identifying the right people in your firm to develop can be a challenge.  Through our work with firms of all sizes, we have identified a combination of traits that are often found in effective thought leaders.

Thinking Beyond the Numbers

As accountants, you have access to key financial information for your clients.  Being able to take that financial information and provide meaningful insights is a trait of potential thought leaders.  Find the partners or staff that take the extra time to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and ratios for their clients.  These are often the same people that do market research or attend industry events.  These bigger-picture thinkers can often be groomed into your best thought leaders.  A good investment is to provide incentives for those people to focus on a single industry or service that is important to the firm.

Looking to the Future

dreamstime_xs_33188119Successful thought leaders take a proactive approach to learning industry trends, and they form opinions about the future of a business or industry.  A few years ago, one of the partners at my former firm came back from a Winning is Everything conference and shared an insight he had heard from one of the speakers. The speaker said that accountants have traditionally been historians for their clients, looking back in time at numbers that have already happened.  The speaker went on to suggest that accountants need to turn their attention to the future and forecast and anticipate for their clients.  This logic can be applied to identifying potential thought leaders at your firm.  Find the partners and staff in your firm that are already thinking about ways to help clients plan for the future, whether it’s selling a company, passing it on to their employees or family members, or a potential merger.  If those partners and staff already have a forward-looking mindset, they are good candidates to groom for thought leadership.

Passionate Approach

This is probably the most critical trait in effective thought leaders. If it’s busy season – which can be year-round for many firms – what is going to motivate a partner or staff member to attend an educational conference or publish an article: a passionate and authentic interest in the subject matter. This doesn’t mean that person has to LOVE metals manufacturing to the point that he or she spends personal time visiting manufacturing plants. But it does mean that he or she is truly engaged when reading an article in the news about a drop in steel prices, knowing that it can help clients.  Since writing and speaking are typically above and beyond day-to-day responsibilities, the fact that a person feels passionate and engaged will help ensure success as a thought leader.

If you already have people in your firm that have these traits, begin to invest in their development as future thought leaders.  If you don’t already have firm members with these traits, and you want to create thought leadership at your firm, we recommend using these traits as critical criteria in your recruiting programs.  While some skills can be learned through training, most of these important traits will be a core part of the personality of a current or future thought leader.

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