IN OUR OPINION, PERSPECTIVE #115 — AUGUST 3, 2020
(A Continuing Series for Leading CPA Firms)
THE STRENGTHS OF GREAT LEADERS
“The majority of men meet with failure because of
their lack of persistence in creating new plans
to take the place of those which fail.” —Napoleon Hill
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch
“People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given the responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.” –Howard Schultz, Starbucks
Great leaders all share the same seven strengths:
- Clarity – clear in all messaging and communications
- Confidence – complete confidence in their leadership responsibilities and accepts responsibility
- Courage – courage to lead and take necessary actions
- Conviction – knows what needs to be done and committed to the actions needed to build a great culture and drive the firm to a standout, high-performing firm
- Consistency – consistent in actions, communications, and leadership to ensure that everyone builds trust in his/her leadership
- Compassion – takes the time to know their team, their hopes and dreams, their fears and leads always with a focus on the basic belief that it is their responsibility to motivate and inspire everyone to become what they never imagined they could be
- Consensus – seeks input to build consensus and agreement on critical issues and ensures that those who provided input are given the respect of understanding surrounding the final decision, whether it reflected their input or not
In any firm, if we judge leadership through the filters of successfully driving firm revenue and profitability as well as building a great culture and team, the effectiveness of leadership varies from poor to average to great. What makes the difference is the extent to which the leader demonstrates strength in the above seven characteristics. Let’s look a little deeper into each.
Courage to take responsibility. Too many leaders tend to look at where to point the finger and lack the courage and confidence to accept responsibility. Great leaders accept responsibility and look at the mistakes of others or their own as a teaching moment. They keep their team focused on the end goal and the roadmap to get there and fully understand that a culture of blame will only result in partners and staff afraid to take on the challenges any firm faces. Great leaders exhibit and communicate leadership strength, courage, and conviction through decisions and actions that tell everyone it is ok to make a mistake. They work to understand what happened and why and not who to blame helping their team members learn from mistakes, grow, and remain focused on the long-term plan.
Great leaders are strategic whereas too many leaders tend to be more tactical, with their forward view limited to the next quarter or the next year. Too many leaders spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror to form their tactical view, as opposed to being able to imagine a different future. Great leaders always learn from the past but lead within a consistent focus on the future. Great leaders understand that it is their responsibility to not only communicate and inspire everyone to move toward the overall strategic objectives and outcomes but to also motivate everyone to “personally care” about the strategic outcomes. They are great in communicating their message with clarity, in understandable terms, and not the abstract. They understand the importance of ensuring that every team member shares the future vision and understands their role in achieving it.
Too many leaders tend to view success through the filter of financial metrics whereas great leaders see financial metrics as a result and not as a measure of success. Great leaders measure success against the vision, mission, and core values of the firm and the longer-term strategy that drives financial success. They provide the insights and clarity to help everyone fully understand the longer-term strategy and through that process make it easier for everyone to make directionally correct day-to-day decisions positively impacting all the firm’s financial results and metrics.
Great leaders make challenging decisions through consensus and with compassion. When decisive action is needed or difficult personnel decisions are needed, too many leaders delay, defer, procrastinate, and all too often just don’t make the decision. Great leaders make hard decisions after thoughtful and compassionate consideration as well as seeking input and consensus – but make the decision without procrastination and share the reasoning when appropriate. Great leaders are seen by everyone as thoughtful and compassionate, but decisive when they need to be.
Great leaders put the client at the center of their universe and make most decisions based on what is best for the client, understanding that through that filter, decisions will also be best for the firm. Too many leaders put the firm at the center of their universe and operate from the perspective of what is best for the firm. Great leaders understand that complex or inefficient internal systems are among the biggest performance killers for the firm and one of the biggest client relationship killers. Putting the client at the center makes life easier for all partners and staff, simplifies all internal processes, and strengthens client satisfaction and loyalty to the firm.
If you look at any professional service firm and interview just a few people, it quickly becomes evident what type of leader the firm has. In too many firms, the approach to leading is to build on the past to create the present since their vision is so short term. The problem with letting the past dictate not only the present but also the future is that the firm will always remain stuck in the middle, just another me-to firm.
As Napoleon stated: “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we lose the future”.
A great leader, by contrast, learns from the past and creates the future based on a vision and strategy of what the firm should be 5 years from today. They lead through the courage of their actions and through their people with the singular goal of creating a standout, high-performing firm. They plan for the future based on a vision of what the future can be and not from the past.
The challenge to all firm leaders is how well do your actions and communications align with the seven strengths of great leadership? Are you a leader who everyone in the firm willingly follows and trusts? The challenge for every leader is to continue to learn their job as the leader – it is a never-ending learning experience where the challenges and successes of each day will provide you with the opportunity to learn and become a better leader if your mindset is open and you understand that your primary focus is on leading and not managing.
In Our Opinion, becoming a great leader is not a place you reach but a road you travel.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “The ultimate measure of a man Is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. This same statement applies to leadership. Great leaders step up to challenge and controversy since they live and breathe the seven strengths noted above, average leaders retreat from leading to managing when controversy or challenge is in front of them.
Tony Zecca (CPA and retired CohnReznick partner and National Director of the Advisory Group) is an ESPOSITO CEO2CEO consultant who is brought into client assignments when needed. ESPOSITO CEO2CEO, LLC — a boutique advisory firm consulting to leading CPA and other professional services firms on strategy, succession planning, and mergers, acquisitions, and integration is actively led by Dom Esposito, CPA. Dom, voted as one of the most influential people in the profession for two consecutive years by Accounting Today, authored a book, published by www.CPATrendlines.com., entitled “8 Steps to Great” which is a primer for CEOs, managing partners, and other senior partners. In Our Opinion, is a continuing series of perspectives for leading CPA firms where Dom and his colleagues share insights, experiences, and wisdom with firm leaders who want to “run with the big dogs” and develop their firms into sustainable brands. Dom welcomes questions and can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.292.3277.
This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and ESPOSITO CEO2CEO, LLC, its employees, and its independent contractors accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.