The best firms get better by improving their leadership and management skills. Many people and firms refer to leadership and management synonymously, but these represent distinct differences and skillsets. Both are very important.However, productivity is typically the measurement of highest value in an accounting firm. Individuals are regularly rewarded for their productivity, rather than the ability to leverage time and get results through others. The support and cooperation of others is necessary in order to accomplish significant goals.
When you think of your managing partner or chief executive, do you think of a great manager or of a great leader? Most firms want both, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to find someone who can or wants to be both.
With development, people can become better leaders and better managers. Seldom do they become both great leaders and great managers. Firms need to build a solid management team that contains both great leaders and managers.
How long does it take? Great leaders and managers are lifetime learners. Great leaders and managers both make a conscious effort to focus on the required skills, rather than just personal production (charge hours).
A common mistake is to place a client service partner in a management position for which they are not trained or qualified. Examples include the areas of human resources, technology and training/learning. Successful companies and firms do not require a CPA certificate to fill those important roles.
With the shortage of accountants, it makes sense to hire a professional management team. The first reaction for some firms is to say that they are too small and can't afford to hire professionals in these positions. They feel that they must spread administrative responsibilities among the partners.
The second reaction is to discount the value of these professionals because they don't have experience in an accounting firm. Both of these reactions require some thought and reasoning. In today's competitive environment for talent, can firms afford not to have professional HR, technology and training personnel?
Talent is attracted to firms that provide a vision in which employees feel that their role is significant. Top talent also wants to work where they maintain their employability and work with state-of-the-art technology.
Consider a few of the differences between great leaders and great managers (see box). Remember that these are generalizations of differences, but they do emphasize the point that it requires a management team, rather than one individual, for a firm to succeed.
With a simple and clear vision, great leaders make the complex world easy for others to understand. They communicate frequently and consistently. A great manager makes sure that people understand and follow the plan. They also ensure that their teams have the necessary resources, training and skills for success. Great firms need and have both great leaders and great managers. Here is a quick action plan to ensure that your firm is developing both:
1. Identify leaders and managers early in their careers.
2. Provide training and assignments that develop the required skills.
3. Reward leaders and managers for their contribution to the firm, not just for personal production.
4. Build a synergistic management team.
The size of your firm will have an impact upon your strategy. However, if you want to grow, you must have both leadership and management. Without growth, your firm will not be able to retain and attract quality people. The best firms get better when they envision themselves as ten times larger than they currently are, rather than thinking about what made them successful in getting to their current size.
When you make the firm better for others, you make the firm better for yourself.
L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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