by August J. Aquila

Few, if any of us, are natural-born leaders. And while many want to be leaders, few become effective ones. Leaders are shaped by their experiences and continue to grow and develop throughout their lifetime. Winston Churchill became a great leader when he was in his 60s.

Some form of leadership probably has been around since the dawn of time. The early cave man with the largest club became the leader of the clan. Sometimes this type of leadership can still be found in businesses today — accountants and lawyers have just replaced the club with a book of business or rainmaking skills.

We have all been exposed to positional leadership. People have this because of a position or title that they hold in a business. Being president of a company or managing partner of a firm does not make one a real leader. Few employees would follow these people into the breach as the soldiers of Henry V willingly did.

True leaders have the ability to influence and capture the hearts and minds of those who work with them. In order to have that kind of impact on others, leaders need to know who they are and what they are to do. Knowing who you are means being a role model for others. What leaders really do is to search for solutions, to align their resources and to empower others to get things done. If you are not doing this, you are not a leader — at least by my definition.

While there are countless definitions of leadership, one of my favorites comes from my favorite author, Peter Drucker, who writes in “The Leader of the Future” that, “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.”

He goes on to say, “An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone whose followers do the right thing. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.”

If we think about Drucker’s words, it becomes obvious that there need to be several leaders in any successful organization, since it takes more than one person to get results!

No one individual single-handedly turns a firm around. This would imply that everyone else is merely following the leader — a sort of a Pied Piper.

Think about your firm/department/practice group for a minute. How does your firm stifle or encourage people to be leaders?

Leaders and managers
What makes a great leader often makes a poor manager, and vice versa. Real leaders and real managers fall at the opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, leaders are original while managers copy; leaders develop and managers maintain; leaders are people-focused and managers are system-focused. Leaders inspire and managers control. Leaders will ask what and why, while managers ask how and when. There are several other differences, but I think you are getting the point. If you are a great leader, find someone to manage the firm; if you are a great manager, find a leader for your firm.

If you still aren’t sure who you are, think about where you spend your time. Managers like to operate, maintain and upgrade systems; they are great scorekeepers; and they keep their eye on the bottom line. Leaders, on the other hand, make things happen; are thinking about tomorrow, not today; leverage their time to create multiple hours of work for others; and create an environment for success. Where are you spending your time?

True leadership
True leadership comes from within us. Nearly all books on leadership cite various characteristics that leaders need to develop. Here are my favorites:

  • Vision. Leaders are concerned with a guiding purpose. Think of John F. Kennedy’s vision to put a man on the moon, or Lance Armstrong’s guiding purpose to win more Tour de France races than anyone else. Vision by itself is not enough. What good is being a great visionary if nothing gets implemented? What’s your guiding vision?
  • Passion for what you do. David Maister often asks professionals, “What percentage of what you do, do you truly love? tolerate? hate?” How would you answer this question?
  • Integrity. A colleague of mine often uses the expression, “There is no right way to do a wrong thing.” And it is often said that integrity cannot be learned, but has to be earned. Personal integrity is the basis for all trust in an organization. What is the level of trust within your organization?
  • Continual desire to learn. Leaders always want to learn new things; they are not afraid to experiment and fail. This is how they grow. What was the last new thing you tried?

The list could go on and on, but if you have these four characteristics, you are on your way to becoming a leader.August Aquila, Ph.D., is the director of practice management consulting at The Growth Partnership, a full-service, national consulting firm to the accounting profession. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or

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