Leadership matters

Leadership skills are among those most sought after by employers in the accountancy and finance sectors, even for entry-level positions.

EY, for example, wants “people with the courage to lead, people who inspire and motivate others, and provide clear direction and encouragement in times of both prosperity and challenge”. Deloitte, too, seeks people who want to develop leadership abilities early in their career, while PwC expects all of its people at all grades and in all areas of their business to be leaders.

Knowing that employers want ‘leadership potential’ means ACCA has weaved leadership skills into every aspect of the ACCA Qualification. We’re creating the leaders of today and tomorrow with a cutting-edge qualification that helps PQs to flourish and achieve their own leadership goals, whatever they may be.

Redefining leadership

Leadership can and does take place at many levels in an organisation, and as a leader myself I think we should celebrate that.

Leo Lee, ACCA’s past president, has defined leadership as “taking people with you as you strive to do the right thing and make a positive impact on the world around you”. Clearly articulating an idea, getting others to be genuinely excited about it, bringing them on a journey and supporting them along the way are the hallmarks of a true leader.

In a modern business, such leaders are needed at every level, so trainees and newly qualified accountants must be prepared. The ACCA qualification’s design creates the business leaders of today and tomorrow, individuals who are able to lead the change and define the opportunities ahead. So for ACCA, there are massive opportunities for PQ readers to learn how to lead, and continue to hone their leadership skills when they become ACCA members through CPD.

Learning to lead

Our competency framework is a great place to look for where leadership and management skills are weaved into the exams and experience needed to become a qualified ACCA.

For example, Strategic Business Leader (SBL) covers a number of leadership and management competencies, such as how to use leadership strategies to effectively deliver business objectives; how to lead, motivate and manage people to optimise performance and effectiveness. SBL also covers the competencies of collaboration, the need to support and work with others to achieve the objectives of an organisation, harnessing appropriate digital technologies to do so.

Our practical experience component requires you to demonstrate a broad range of competencies in a workplace environment, with PO5 being the specific leadership and management objective alongside ethics and professionalism, stakeholder relationship management, strategy and innovation, and governance, risk and control.

With PO5 and the associated exams, you’ll be able to prove that you “can manage yourself and your resources effectively and responsibly”, and that you “contribute to the leadership and management of your organisation – delivering what’s needed by stakeholders and the business.”

The ethical leader

We believe that ethical and professional values should provide a framework and a moral compass for the accountant to guide behaviours. That’s why the syllabus for our ground breaking ethics and professional skills module (EPSM) covers leadership and management as a core skill.

Unit 5: Leadership and team working looks at leadership approaches and traits which can be used at any level in an organisation, from the nature of leadership, to leadership in action and situational leadership. It also covers leadership styles and motivation, while also focussing on the vital aspects of accountability, responsibility and authority. For this unit, you learn how a leader would manage a diverse group of people to achieve a task within a team. You must identify the type of manager you are and the style you are adopting and the potential issues with your approach to achieving the task. The tasks will involve tracking your progress as a leader in making and communicating decisions to the team and advising on whether the decisions and behaviour adopted were appropriate at each stage.

The evolving leader

The role of the leader is changing. Our digital world means that finance leaders have to deal even more with the unexpected, to use technology to evidence and support decision-making. As an accountant, you need to be able to interpret and use financial information to optimise business performance, and evaluate risk and reward constructively.

You’ll also be expected to be a skilled stakeholder and relationship manager, well versed in social and emotional intelligence. This is the ability to manage one’s emotions, and to handle relationships with empathy and good judgement.

Our report, ‘Emotional quotient in a digital age’, looked at leadership and interactions with technology, asserting that leaders need to be able to deal more empathetically to “human beings’ reactions to the machines or to the information they produce”.

EQ (emotional quotient) is one of our seven skills for success – our professional quotients – that we’ve talked about here in PQ before. Leadership also demands accountability, integrity, and communication and presentation skills throughout your professional life, all skills which are developed initially in the EPSM.

Effective leadership

Effective leadership is essentially about helping colleagues feel positive – or at least mitigating the negative – about following a course of action. Effective leaders are those who are able to persuade colleagues they ‘get’ them as people and are listening to them and their concerns. Leaders can bring optimism and personality, they can be very at ease with people and comfortable in their own skin, able to think on their feet and adapt to changing circumstances. Above all a leader is someone who can put across their vision and message in their own unique language and authentic voice.

First and foremost, leaders are those who’ve become skilled and experienced in building relationships and bringing people with them, taking their concerns on board and trying to move forward together.

Keep an open mind

Starting to lead can often seem daunting, but in my experience, leadership and direction brings great rewards. Stepping up to leadership – of people, departments or whole organisations – is a career choice, one that should be planned and nurtured. That’s why we are here to support you on your leadership journey, through the Qualification, through our practical experience and with advice and guidance online.

• Alan Hatfield is ACCA’s executive director strategy and development