As the accounting profession ages, firms of all sizes are learning that the best way to ensure that there will be a next generation of leaders is to develop them yourself.

Cultivating high-performers at all levels of your firm will not only let you maximize their current performance -- it will also help you build a pipeline of potential seniors, managers and eventual partners.

At Realize CPAs, a Best Firm to Work For with 26 staff in San Francisco, they send high-performing junior staff to leadership training specifically "to develop their skills as future leaders of the firm."

Firms in all the size categories of our 2015 Best Firms to Work For noted that they send staff to external leadership programs, some from professional trainers and others from local civic leadership organizations.

For instance, Tucson, Ariz.-based BeachFleischman sponsors some of its 115 staff to participate in the Greater Tucson Leadership program, a leadership organization that is dedicated to providing leadership education, community development and civic engagement.
And for the 26 staff at San Antonio's ATKG, "We fund leadership courses through the CPA society, the Chamber of Commerce and other agencies. These programs enhance our folks' leadership skills and broaden their network in the industry and the community (accounting and admin employees alike)."

Many of the larger members of the Best Firms have their own internal programs. The 230 staff at Atlanta's Frazier & Deeter, for instance, can apply to participate in LEAD FD, "a 13-month leadership development program that provides concentrated and customized development for a group of individuals who demonstrate the strongest commitment to developing themselves, others and the firm." It includes one-on-one coaching, peer coaching, and a skills assessment based on leadership competencies, and the participants lead firm-wide project teams focused on high-leverage firm improvement needs.

Lutz, a Best Firm in Omaha, Neb., with 145 staff, has two leadership programs, and a new management skills training series. The leadership programs cover a range of areas, from public speaking coaching to path to leadership stories from our partners to group initiatives to better the firm, while the management series was developed to help people hone skills such as delegation, feedback, time management and client service.

And KraftCPAs, a 182-person firm in Nashville, Tenn., the firm has a formalized mentoring program that helps it to identify and develop future leaders: "We identify these potential leaders early in their careers and send them to a two-year partner development program, which focuses only on business development, leadership and management. This program is designed to develop future leaders by accelerating improvement in individual performance," the firm reported.

Kraft noted that admission to its program did not guarantee that a participant would become a partner, but then firms need leaders at all levels, and the firm's demonstration that it is concerned with developing its staff will pay dividends beyond creating a pipeline of partners.

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