In my prior articles in this series, we explored two leadership concepts - the first being the behaviors that you should exhibit to be a leader worthy of following, and the second being the activities that will affect the degree to which you are able to influence others.To be honest, though, most of the partners or owners that I encounter don't want to talk about how they can be a more effective leader. Instead, they want to know how to motivate others in their firm to exhibit leadership behaviors and undertake leadership activities. That will be the focus of this and a subsequent article - to explore methods for developing leaders in your practice.

To begin the leadership development process, we always ask the firm's top partners and owners to focus first on their own leadership behaviors and activities at work, because they are far more likely to impact the behaviors, activities and outcomes of their fellow partners, managers and staff when they are walking the walk, so to speak.

So, the first thing we suggest that you do to develop leaders in your firm is to communicate your organization's commitment to develop leadership at all levels in your firm. This is likely to generate enthusiasm at all levels - both because of your willingness to begin this transformational process in the firm, and because you are committing to make the changes necessary at the owner level to address your issues first.

Then, ensure that you have developed a culture that values ownership versus a culture that values helpers. Why? Because when your staff helps you with something, they determine the degree to which they commit their resources to provide you assistance. Because they are helping you, you are supposed to be grateful for whatever they do, even if it doesn't feel like it was "enough" or what you expected. In addition, when your team members help you, the responsibility for the ultimate result or outcome is always yours.

Contrast this with ownership. When a staff member owns something for you, they are responsible for the work and the outcome. That individual is expected to develop a vision for the thing that they own, and to determine a plan to achieve it, too. In addition, they become the point person for all communications related to their assigned area; they are responsible for enrolling others to do the work, and they own the ultimate outcome, too.

In my experience, this distinction is critical to developing leaders in your firm, because it is simply impossible to lead when you are only around to help out. And most of us have built our organizations around a bunch of people who were hired to help, instead of a team of people who own their assigned initiatives and are driving them toward their intended outcomes.

No tragedy of the commons

What can you do with this distinction? I recommend that you and your owner or partner team first evaluate every department, business process, service line or other "division" of your firm (no matter what its size) and assign one single owner to every area in the firm. And please - no sharing allowed! That's because when there is more than one owner, there are no owners! Be careful to also watch for the same name appearing too frequently as owning too many areas, as this may point to the reason that your people aren't leading - they don't own anything!

For an example of one firm's ownership matrix, see the illustration at the top of this page. This provides a sample - your firm's departments and initiatives are likely to vary, so your box titles will vary, too.

Each of your departments, offices or service lines can break down into segments, too, and assign single owners to each of those segments. For instance, if you name Gail Smith as the owner of your firm's tax practice, she could break down the tax services area into segments including the 1040 business, corporate tax services, tax software maintenance and electronic filing, tax-related communications, and tax season staffing. Within Gail's group, she should then be encouraged to name an owner for each of these specialized areas within her own initiative, and those owners would then be responsible for driving their assigned areas forward.

Once you've established owners for each area, then it's time to define what ownership of each area means. Ideally, you'll do this by documenting the specific activities or duties and responsibilities and the expected outcomes for each assigned area in each owner's written role description.

Too often, our role descriptions focus on the tactical aspects of helping, versus the strategic aspects of owning. Consider developing role descriptions using duties and responsibilities in each of the eight leadership activities that were explored in my last article, including:

* Cultivating a vision;
* Planning and decision-making;
* Communicating;
* Organizing and empowering;
* Motivating;
* Demonstrating your commitment;
* Problem solving, and,
* Maintaining accountability.

And don't hesitate to include ownership and leadership activities in every single role in your firm - from your receptionist to the managing partner. Every single person can and should have least one area that they own, with leadership activities incorporated in their role.

In my next article, we will explore how you can further the leadership development process by helping your people map their career options and by investing in skills-building education that will enhance their leadership and managerial abilities in a broad number of areas.

Until then, quit accepting help from your team members and start expecting ownership. Your people will appreciate being empowered to move their initiative forward and make a real difference in their work. Try it!

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access