[IMGCAP(1)]As businesses seek to turn information into knowledge, CPAs will assume more advisory roles by combining traditional services with consulting services.

Accountants must have the sales and presentation skills not traditionally used in the profession. They must be able to explain financial data in non-financial terms and offer clear and concise recommendations that lead to business results.

One of the biggest paradigm shifts in 21st century management is the unmistakable need to develop non-technical competencies in both current and future leaders. Study after study has shown it is the non-technical skills that distinguish star performers in every field, from entry-level to top executive positions.

Even in the accounting profession, it is now commonly accepted that simply being technically excellent is not enough to successfully lead a firm, service line, niche area or department. In order to thrive, today’s accountant must also develop a strong foundation of “non-technical” skills in addition to being highly trained in the technical competencies of their trade.

Non-technical skills such as personal, interpersonal, managerial and organizational capabilities play a key role in making or breaking a firm’s success as clients are demanding more accountability and seeking “the right fit” both technically and personally. Firms that adopt a learning culture that supports both technical and non-technical competencies are able to fully develop their most important asset — their people — and confront the challenges of the profession confidently.

Perhaps one of the greatest recent discoveries connecting non-technical skills development to overall firm profitability is the concept of emotional intelligence. Since 1990, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have been the leading researchers on emotional intelligence. In their influential article, “Emotional Intelligence,” they defined emotional intelligence as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.”   

Today’s professionals are being evaluated by their employers not just according to how smart they are, or by their technical training and experience, but also by how they handle themselves and each other. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability, capacity, skill, or even self-perceived ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others and of groups.

Emotional intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It defines how and what we learn; it allows us to set priorities; it determines the majority of our daily actions. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80 percent of the "success" in our lives.

Emotional intelligence skills can be further developed and nurtured within an individual, while in contrast, a person’s IQ cannot be changed. Furthermore, a recent study found that firms that successfully develop emotional intelligence skills among their current and future partners (i.e., the kinds of competencies developed through non-technical training) enjoy 390 percent more incremental profit when benchmarked against an average firm. In addition, a study of 15 global companies showed seven skills differentiated the “stars” from average executives — six of those seven skills were emotional or non-technical.

Finally, it is critical to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of technical knowledge. It is not the triumph of heart over head; it is the unique intersection of both. It is not nature versus nurture, but a combination of the two. One is a constant while the other is learned behavior.

Jeffrey Pawlow is the CEO and managing shareholder of The Growth Partnership, Inc. and The Partner Institute, a two-year, multi-disciplinary program for accountants.

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