The CPA as a Persuasive Leader

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IMGCAP(1)]As CPAs, we usually live in a world of absolutes.

We comply with stringent standards and regulations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Internal Revenue Service, the Financial Accounting Standards Board and other regulatory agencies.

There is not much of a gray area in accounting mathematics. One plus one always equals two. We are vigilant to ensure that each disbursement is coded to the correct account. Everything should fit neatly in its own little box. As accountants, we are usually detail oriented and analytical thinkers with good organizational skills.

This skill set is absolutely necessary as we do the work of CPAs. However, as we progress in our careers, we usually take on some type of leadership role. We become managers or partners of a CPA firm, or CFOs and executives where we manage other people. We must develop a new skill set to be effective leaders of those who work for us.

At times, our propensity for absolutes can work against us. We can assume that there is only one way to solve a problem as we deal with people. We might have the tendency to dismiss the input of others because we imagine that we know the only true and correct answer. We then would be absolutely wrong.

Daniel Goleman, PhD, wrote an international bestseller, "Emotional Intelligence," which teaches that when we are managing people, emotional intelligence—how we handle ourselves and our relationships—matters more than IQ or technical skill. In fact, all of Dr. Goleman’s writings advocate the use of interpersonal feelings and emotions to increase leadership effectiveness. Leadership is all about connecting with the people you lead. It is a different world for most accountant types.

Many authors describe a multitude of leadership styles, even Goleman. If you eliminate the inconsequential nuances, there are essentially only two leadership styles—compulsive and persuasive.

The Compulsive Leader
Compulsive leaders lead by force, criticism, micromanaging and threats. They also lead with emotion, but their emotional leadership is best expressed by Niccolo Machiavelli, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

This leadership style is also known as authoritarian or autocratic, but the term compulsive is more indicative of how this leadership style is performed—by compulsion. The compulsive style is only effective in emergency situations and only for short periods of time.

Compulsive leaders can be successful if they are very talented or intelligent and no one else in the organization is inclined to challenge their decisions. The problem is that compulsive leaders are never as successful as they could be or for as long as they should be, and they are prone to catastrophic mistakes because there is no one to temper them. Compulsive leaders are most likely to use these practices:

1.    Do whatever gets the desired result.
2.    Be forceful.
3.    Let people know that making you happy is their number one job.
4.    Allow contention in your workforce to sort out the weakest employees.
5.    Create a work environment that emphasizes work above all else.
6.    Train just enough to get the job done.
7.    Get all you can out of your employees at the lowest possible cost.
8.    Focus on cutting costs rather than increasing revenue.
9.    Create a workplace that is safe enough not to get penalized.
10.    Discipline often and in the most public way to show who is in control.

There are compulsive leaders that use less compulsion but still maintain absolute control. They see themselves as benevolent monarchs. These compulsive leaders treat people more kindly but do not solicit nor heed the counsel of others. They create a less toxic but equally stifling work environment.

The Persuasive Leader
Persuasive leaders shows by their actions, attitude and speech that they view employees as people and not objects to be exploited nor ignored. Employees are treated as the most valuable resource of the company.

This leadership style also includes participative, collaborative, delegative and laissez-faire styles. The term “persuasive” is more indicative of how this leadership style is performed—by persuading some team members and allowing other team members to persuade the leader. The participative, collaborative, delegative and laissez-faire styles are all slightly different, but persuasion is at the root of all of them since there is always more than one person that needs to agree on the final solution.

The basic premise of persuasive leadership is that all opinions are heard and fully vetted and a decision is made that is satisfactory to all or most participants. The Persuasive Leader uses these practices:

1.    Do what is right.
2.    Be positive.
3.    Keep your ego in check.
4.    Eliminate contention in your workforce.
5.    Promote a fertile work environment.
6.    Train employees and encourage learning.
7.    Nurture your employees.
8.    Reward your employees fairly.
9.    Create a safe and pleasant workplace.
10.    Discipline with clarity and compassion.

Most organizations have both types of leaders. The compulsive style is the easiest and the one that most people naturally tend towards. It strokes our pride and ego. The organizations that have the most compulsive leaders or compulsive leaders in the executive suite are those that are the most toxic.

It is much more difficult to be a persuasive leader. It requires a constant effort to regard everyone as a person who is worthy of consideration. It requires treating others as we would like to be treated. It requires self-control and overcoming our pride. It is difficult, but the results are worth it.

Consider how different it feels to be the employee of a persuasive boss as opposed to a compulsive boss. As CPAs who are also leaders of others, we must connect with others first, before we rely on our technical abilities. Persuasive leadership will create a more productive and enjoyable work environment. Our clients and customers will be more satisfied and we will be more successful in our careers, regardless of the career we have chosen.

Roger C. Allred, CPA, is a management consultant, professional trainer, and a former CFO, COO and CEO. He is also the author of “The Family Business: Power Tools for Survival, Success and Succession" (Berkley Books, 1997). For more information, visit

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