April 24, 2013
Some leaders are born – others are bred. Here are some skills accountants should develop, so that they can stop playing “follow the leader,” and start being the leaders to follow.
There are a lot of popular myths about accountants (not a few of which have found their way into television’s portrayals of the profession). For example, accountants are not widely considered the most gregarious or commanding types in the corporate personality pool. But you don’t need to be a raging extrovert to be a capable and admired leader. And every accountant’s career will benefit from developing strong leadership skills, regardless of their designation.
Generally speaking, accountants will help to shape a company’s success in a quieter, less in-your-face way than a general manager or top executive. As such, there are subtler (though no less effective) leadership qualities accounting and finance professionals should focus on developing, if they want to maximize their work relationships and boost company productivity. The following skills will go a long way in helping you build leadership skills in an accounting role.
Adopt the mantle of an educator
Accountants tend to play a highly specialized role within a company. You may not be billed as the so-called ideas person of the bunch, but when it comes to really getting projects off the ground, you’re prized for your numerical literacy and ability to actualize things. Other departments see you as an ambassador for the complicated world of figures and sums.
To play this role to the best of your ability, you need to be able to not only dispense advice upon request, but to position yourself as something of an educator. Because your knowledge is so valued, learn how to convey what you know in clear, accessible terms – to translate the financial information you interpret into simple language, without falling back on jargon or buzzwords. If verbal communication isn’t your forte, consider investing in a professional development course to bone up on those ever-important public speaking skills.
Assuming that your company is amenable, volunteer to lead a session for other departments on decoding financial data and how it relates to the company’s bottom line. That kind of initiative will be viewed as a sign of leadership, and allow you to flex your teaching muscles.
Learn to sell your ideas
Accountants get a bad rap for poking holes in others’ ideas (often on financial grounds) and then failing to suggest an alternative concept. You may frequently find yourself in a situation where the sales and marketing are excited to roll out a new product that you recognize as financially unfeasible or impractical. You need, however, to learn to help them tweak their proposals in a manner that’s productive and encouraging, rather than dismissive or condescending. Simply raining on other people’s parades isn’t going to help you earn your leadership stripes.
To continue on as the voice of financial reason without being a total buzz-kill, you will have to find a middle ground between shooting an idea down, on the one hand, and giving people false hope, on the other. Often the difference will be split according to how you frame your response. Show receptivity to, and enthusiasm for, a new idea, and then identify the components of it that are positive – while gently nudging your teammates towards a more workable, fiscally responsible approach.
Develop a capacity for self-reflection
There’s an old saying: when something goes wrong, an ineffective leader looks out the window, while a great leader looks in the mirror. To leverage your role as an expert, you will want to work on your own weaknesses before addressing those of your teammates. For example, say you notice that you haven’t given adequate time to communicating with the marketing team; start up a discussion about this with your supervisor and teammates, and explore ways to progress.
Self-reflection will allow you to recognize the part you play in your company’s problems, as well as to brainstorm solutions for improvement. Being able to turn a critical eye on yourself (as opposed to others) is definitely a skill that needs to be cultivated and practiced. This can be aided by working with a professional coach or mentor, or else a trusted friend or co-worker.
Gain the trust of your colleagues
Effective leadership is directly tied to the ability to build solid relationships with co-workers across departments. Relationship-building, in its turn, depends on both parties being able to expect certain things from one another. If your teammates know they can count on you, to show up when you say you will, meet deadlines, and generally be invested in company projects, their trust in you will grow exponentially.
Furthermore, if they have a clear sense that you’re a value-driven worker whose responses to scenarios can usually be anticipated (rather than getting thrown off course by erratic behaviour), they will feel that they can put faith in you.
As an accountant, you shouldn’t buy into the notion that people in the profession have no stomach for leadership. As a professional trained and working in a highly specialized area – one that your average Joe or Jane likely doesn’t understand – you have the capacity to nurture your teammates across departments in an exciting, unique way. To make the most of this, though, you’ll need to hone your abilities to educate and sell people on your perspectives without shooting them down. Look inwards before casting blame, and ensure you’re someone others can trust.
Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!