Leadership is all about influence, up, down, and sideways. At the core of accountants, leadership is knowledge of the subject matter and the discipline and or management skills to bring ideas to fruition.
From one point of view, leadership is far different than management. Accountants need both.
An accountant’s leadership might be all about developing a vision for the client’s tax strategy, being innovative, motivating clients, empowering decision-makers, focusing on the strategy of the plan instead of the client, keeping the forest in view, and not just see the trees.
If this is leadership, then from that same viewpoint, accountants management might be developing the plans to accomplish that vision, contact the organization that can implement those plans, monitoring actions and activities, putting controls and processes in place to assure quality and reasonable delivery, holding people accountable for performance, building the infrastructure accountants needs to support the volume of work, constantly seeking stability and consistency, doing things right and managing the bottom line.
When you read these two definitions that describe differences between leadership and management, it becomes clear that the simplified view is;
“An accountants leadership is about the high-level focus of setting the course for the ship, putting the crew together, and motivating them to act and work together to arrive at the planned destination.”
Whereas, staying with this same analogy,
“Accountants management is all about the details of getting the crew to take the necessary day-to-day actions that will keep the ship running and move it from one destination to the next.”
Accountants Today Need Leadership & Management Skills
Many break people into either leaders or followers. Simply put, that is a very limiting view as it creates an “us” and a “them.” As well, it does not represent reality. A person can be a leader performing one task, and then a follower on the next.
In my opinion, clients want leaders. They want their accountants to add value to the relationship and not only solve problems, but foresee them. Accountants also have to know when to transfer control of a project. If they don’t, it will hamper the development of future plans and measurement of existing ones.
Now, let’s step back from this and talk about common perceptions of leadership and management in accountants. First of all, we may have a “semantics” problem in the profession… a general disconnect with the words “leader” and “manager.”
Too many clients think accountants are mostly managers or they just manage “accounting” and “tax” matters. When the client recognizes the value add of accountants as leaders, a partnership is born. Accountants should be able to bring a 360-degree leadership and management role to their clients. If not, it’s just another service that has rapidly turned into a commodity.
The fact is that “leadership” is often not a highly respected role in accountants.
Accountants tend to confuse the job of tracking and reporting information with the much bigger and more sought after trait of holding people accountable for strategic and tactical implementation. Clients tend to value their external roles of leadership and management as they are manifested in taking care of the client’s affairs.
There is a logical reason for these accountants do not offer clients leadership capabilities. Growing up in the CPA profession, your rise within the CPA firm ranks is mostly dependent on your technical ability. As you increase your technical prowess, you become responsible for managing projects, their quality, and budgets. When it comes to people, you just pick them out of an available staff pool and take advantage of whatever skills they have.
As you can read from our description above, for accountants, management is about the utilization of available resources to complete a project or task. But management has very little expectation or requirement to develop those around them. We expect to be surrounded by “self-starters” and “quick-learners,” and if you are not, we would just rather do the work ourselves.
This attitude or perspective undermines the success of accountants thinking outside the box to become leaders.