I am a student of the topic of leadership, mostly because my career calling requires it, but also because it is so difficult to define and impossible to master. By turns, leadership is hard to define, teach and quantify, but also easy to spot, be inspired by and follow.In public accounting, leadership has become an increasingly popular topic, as the entrepreneurial leaders who formed so many thriving practices begin to seriously contemplate retirement, only to be faced with the big question - who will lead this practice in my absence?
This question always causes me to wonder - shouldn't the answer be clear? Realizing that, for many, it isn't, it begs a few follow-on questions. Shouldn't we be developing leaders in our practice who are being prepared every day, from their first day, to take over for someone else in their absence? And, if so, how do we teach our people the lessons of leadership?
Because my mission in life is to help answer questions like these, I've been contemplating them as sort of a personal mission, and have come to the following conclusions. First, to develop leadership in others, we have to commit to developing leadership in ourselves. I have long believed that people mirror their leaders' behavior - and I only need to look to my parents, myself and my children for proof of this idea. What does this mean to you? Developing genuine leaders in your practice will require that you become a great leader yourself.
Second, becoming a great leader requires that we spend time learning about leadership - what it is, how it works and what we can do with the information. That's why I keep reading books and articles about leadership, have attended leadership training courses, have committed to leadership coaching, and why I also try to share what I've learned in the hopes that, by doing so, I will gain new insights and might also help you in your leadership growth, too.
Third, leadership has many dimensions and has never-ending applications. The concept of leadership can be overwhelming, so I try to break the topic down into small pieces so that each piece can be better understood. Once I think I have gained a grasp on one element, a new idea will pop up, but this concept of taking my leadership development in steps gives me confidence that I will gain skill and ability along the way.
So, what is leadership?
Leadership is the art of influencing others to act in some manner to achieve an objective. In business, it is the art of influencing others to do the things we need them to do to meet their objectives, which should translate to meeting our organization's objectives.
To understand leadership, you have to first understand influence. Some may say that influence can only be exerted by those with charisma, charm, a dynamic personality, and so on. I don't believe this is true. Instead, I believe that the art of influencing others, or leading others, is impacted most by who you are being and what you are doing as a leader yourself.
In this article, we'll focus on this first dimension, or on who you are being, or who you should strive to be, as a leader. To explore this further, think of all of the influential leaders you've been inspired by. What characteristics or attributes did they, or do they, exhibit?
When I teach leadership workshops, the attributes most often shared include:
This is a good list, and worthy of our consideration. I agree that most every one of these attributes is present in the leaders I most admire - not because they say that they are these things, but because their behavior over time reflects these characteristics. Does your professional behavior reflect these leadership characteristics? We all want to think that our behavior does, but what would your partners or people say?
Before we ponder this troubling question, I want to first ask you to consider adding a few other leadership characteristics to our list. Aren't the great leaders you know accountable for the results (or lack of results) they produce? How about compassionate for the plight of others? What about vulnerable and real? I usually start to get some push back from others at this point - compassion and vulnerability? Get real! Aren't leaders supposed to be tough?
In some circumstances, yes. But genuine leaders understand that people are influenced most by people they perceive as being like them. And what better way for your people to see you as human than when you show your concern for the well-being of others, or admit when you make a mistake, or confess your uncertainty about something but take action anyway?
In his book, Leadership Jazz, Max DuPree talks about the leadership attributes of compassion, vulnerability and comfort with ambiguity, as well as many others. Elements from his list, combined with the best responses from our leadership workshop, serve as the foundation for a Leadership Attributes Evaluation that I'd like you to consider taking yourself. To gain access, go to www.convergencecoaching.com/cscguestleadership.htm.
In his book, Winning, Jack Welch, a transformational leader credited with the success of GE, said that to develop a winning team, you have to develop a team of leaders. According to Welch, to do this you have to spend all of your time in three leadership activities: evaluating, coaching and building self-confidence. I would add a fourth activity to Welch's list (a bold move, I realize) and that is leading.
So, start by evaluating yourself using the tool I mentioned above. If you're really brave, return to that nagging question that we left behind and find out the answer - by asking your partners and team to provide you feedback about how well your leadership behavior reflects these attributes, too.
Listen carefully to the feedback. If it overwhelms you, in the negative sense, consider hiring a leadership coach. If the feedback points to some specific areas that you can improve, ask for examples and ideas from your team to help you to do so. When you are open to having others critique your leadership abilities and you commit to improving, your people and your partners are very likely to reflect your behavior and become open to the same critique and coaching from you.
In the next article on this subject, we will explore the important dimension of leadership activities, or the things that you do each day that affect your influence of others. From there, we will explore the steps to applying these leadership attributes and activities to developing leadership in others.
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.
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