by Jennifer Lee Wilson

Most CPA and information technology firms are engaged in some form of niche marketing, whether or not they distinguish it as such. They can be industry-specific, service-related or geographic.

Regardless of which niche you’re engaged in, the most influential factors in determining success are the leadership behaviors you exhibit when launching and then supporting your niche over time.

Leadership behaviors are those verbal, non-verbal and written cues you display that indicate to others where your values lie and how deep your commitment is to those values. Leadership has become a red-hot topic in both accounting and IT and, given its importance to the success of your niche, the hype is more than warranted.

Different leadership behaviors can create various levels of impact when developing a new niche or fostering an existing niche. Consider the following as an introduction to transformational leadership and a template to guide you through a "leadership check-up." Use it to evaluate whether you’re doing all you can to support the success of your niche.

Transformational leadership

To successfully implement and integrate a niche practice in your firm, use leadership transformation techniques. According to Webster’s Dictionary, transformation is the process of changing the form or disposition of something.

In the case of your niche practice, transformation can apply to any number of areas but certainly applies to your organizational structure, planning, communication, sales and marketing processes and methods for measuring and rewarding success.

Leading your organization through transformation will enable you to grow to the next level and position your firm to achieve your vision by overcoming obstacles and renewing your focus and passion.

To lead your organization through change and maximize your niche success, your leadership behaviors should:

  • Reach others on an emotional level;
  • Confront reality;
  • Have vision;
  • Motivate others to perform beyond their expectations; and
  • Appeal to your team’s need for growth and development, trust and respect and support for their core values.

Reviewing this list may cause you to wonder how you’re doing in each area. To find out, take a moment and run yourself through the following "Leadership check-up" and let’s see if there may be areas that you’re missing altogether or areas where you could improve.Successful niche leadership: Are you there yet?

In their book, "Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership," B.M. Bass and B.J. Avolio indicate that successful leaders exhibit a number of similar behaviors.

To adapt their ideas to niche practice development, I’ve organized these into leadership task and behavior categories and supplemented their ideas with niche specifics.

Review this list and give yourself one point for each leadership task you’ve completed or behavior you consistently display.

Leadership check-up

Mission, Vision, Values and Culture (9 points)

Have you:

  • Defined your niche’s mission?
  • Developed a clear vision of what your niche will look like in three to five years?
  • Defined your firm’s or team’s values related to the niche?

Do you:

  • Show a personal and daily commitment to achieving the niche goals?
  • Exhibit behaviors that are moral and ethical?
  • Instill team spirit with activities for your niche teams?
  • Share risk with your team?
  • Reward innovation and encourage new solutions to old problems?
  • Ensure a risk-free environment for team members to share ideas?

Analysis and planning (5 points)Have you:

  • Conducted an analysis of your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) related to your niche gaining multiple inputs from staff, clients and other partners?
  • Developed a clear understanding of the SWOT of your key competitors in the niche?
  • Defined a series of measurable objectives that define success for your niche?
  • Outlined tactics necessary to achieve your objectives?
  • Assigned clear, singular ownership for each tactic, with an agreed upon completion date and a date to review status against the plan?

Sharing your vision (4 points)Have you:

  • Clearly communicated the niche’s mission, vision and values to all team members, clients and prospects?
  • Ensured that all team members see the niche as a permanent focus for the firm and understand why it is critical to your overall success?
  • Shared the high-level outcomes from your analysis and planning work with all members of the team so that they can better understand where your niche fits competitively and are aware of the key objectives and tactics necessary to achieve success?
  • Developed mechanisms for communicating the niche’s existence, successes and ongoing progress to team, clients, vendors and alliance partners?

Organizing and empowering your people (7 points)Have you:

  • Named and then empowered a niche leader to implement and, when necessary, refine the niche plan?
  • Allocated the appropriate resources to support the niche, including the often under-resourced areas of sales, marketing and administration?
  • Developed and communicated a niche incentive program to all partners and staff to ensure that all members of the firm support the niche by cross selling and providing referrals?

Do you:

  • Place the needs of your team members, including your niche leader, first?
  • Listen to the needs of your staff and clients, showing a real interest in their needs and growth?
  • Assign work to team members based on your intent to challenge them?
  • Make investments in life-long learning for your people?

If, after an honest assessment, you were able to give yourself a score of 22 or more, then your niche and your firm, overall, are probably growing and thriving.If your score was 17 to 21, you’re well on your way. keep up the good work and add to your leadership foundation to move to real niche success.
If your score was lower than 17, consider taking immediate action to exhibit the leadership behaviors necessary to achieve your goals.

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