The accounting profession has faced many changes in the last several years that all point to a need for strong leaders. Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers and firms are navigating business model, talent and technology disruptions. A common question we hear is, “Are leaders born or made?” Can you make a strong leader out of an ordinary person or are there certain innate traits that simply cannot be taught? Let’s discuss … .
He said: I believe that while individuals are born with different personalities and traits, they are all like diamonds in the rough. Diamonds need to be cut and polished properly to make an exquisite gem. People require training and experience to reach their full potential as a strong leader.
She said: Not everyone is a natural-born leader. I do believe that everyone can improve their skills as a leader and communicator, but some people are naturally more inclined to lead and are better at it from the start.
To be a leader, people must be willing to follow you. A common thing I see with inexperienced leaders is the idea that people should automatically follow you if you have the title of manager or partner. We all know this is not necessarily the case. In many situations our strongest “leaders” in an organization are those people who are the biggest influencers of people, regardless of their title or rank. You simply cannot be “crowned” a strong leader, you must earn it.
He said: Interesting point. Some traits of the best leaders that stand out to me are confidence, charisma, an outgoing personality, and the ability to inspire and influence others.
She said: I agree, but some of the best leaders I have seen demonstrate empathy, patience, resilience and are far more introverted than extroverted — especially in this profession. I have seen leaders and rainmakers who are those “interested introverts” become as successful or even more so than “interesting extroverts.”
He said: It comes down, many times, to coachability. I believe professionals can become better leaders if they are open to feedback and willing to work on themselves. It is hard for anyone who thinks he knows everything to grow. We all develop over time and either become strong leaders and better people or we stagnate at some point in our lives.
She said: Relevancy is another factor we should discuss. The most relevant leader five years ago who has not invested in continued development is not the most relevant today. In addition to coachability, an investment in remaining relevant to team members and clients is imperative. Leaders who are known to be stuck in their ways or change resisters lose tremendous respect. We saw this clearly during the transition to a hybrid environment during the pandemic several years ago. Those leaders who failed to adapt ended up retiring early in many cases.
He said: Leadership skills can be continuously developed and are not just about communication style or personality traits; it also involves a set of skills, such as communication, decision-making, conflict resolution, and problem-solving. These skills can be cultivated over time through education, training, mentoring, and real-world leadership experiences. The important factor here is continued investment in cultivating those leadership skills.
She said: Effective leaders must be able to adapt their approach to the situation. Situational leadership involves adjusting their leadership style to address different situations and challenges. This adaptability is a combination of innate traits and learned behaviors. Leadership development is an ongoing process.
He said: My experience has taught me that successful leaders do the following things exceptionally well:
They provide a clear sense of direction, a vision that reflects a stage on the journey and the strategies for achieving it.
They get and sustain their partners’ commitment for achieving the vision and they help the partners and the firm’s people deliver outstanding client service, with individual performances personifying everything they want the firm to stand for.
Finally, they create a culture of sustained high performance and profitability.
She said: I agree. So, whether someone is born with a natural inclination to lead, most people can make the appropriate investments in themselves and others to emerge as an effective leader.
They said: In summary, while some individuals may have a headstart in terms of innate leadership traits, leadership is not solely determined by genetics. It is a combination of both nature and nurture. Strong leadership is a skill that evolves over time, and individuals can become effective leaders through a combination of their inherent traits and their dedication to growth and development.
Consider these questions:
- How effective are you as a leader in your firm?
- What steps should you take to improve this?
- Are you considered coachable?
- Would you want to work with and for a leader like you?
Every day is an opportunity to improve. Pave the way for the next generation of leaders and you won’t regret it.
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