Practice Management

What It Takes to Lead Your Accounting Team

Written by Scott Brown

While many would agree that there is a significant difference between “management” and “leadership,” the truth is that both are vital to success. The focus of each may be different, but their desired outcome should ultimately be two sides of the same coin.

Scott Brown and his SUM Innovation colleagues will lead the Emerging Leaders Program, an intensive, interactive session on September 7 at Accountex USA 2017. This day-long program is designed to help emerging leaders in small to medium-sized accounting and bookkeeping practices transform their firm, shift the culture, embrace technology, and influence others.

Leadership and Management

As a very general rule, leadership tends to be more concerned with overall vision, attitudes, and a variety of the more esoteric, “people-related” concerns such as motivation, inspiration, behaviors, delegation and the like. Management, on the other hand, tends to address the more pragmatic, task-oriented issues such as methods, skills, policies and procedures, adherence to budgets, scheduling and similar day-to-day functions.

Good leaders excel at not only conveying where a group is headed but also why they’re heading there. They understand that for people to work most effectively, especially in the long run, they must be able to inspire them with a clear and meaningful vision. Leaders also understand the value of trust and its position as the bedrock of the relationships with those entrusted to their care; they trust and are trustworthy.

Good managers, on the other hand, understand the task at hand, the destination, and are adept at finding the most effective and efficient way of getting there. They are the gatekeepers entrusted with the task of making sure things get done the way they’re supposed to, when they’re supposed to, and hopefully on or under budget. Sometimes their methods can seem impersonal but the necessity of what they do and the direction they provide is invaluable to the success of any organization.

Not surprisingly, one thing that almost all leadership (and management) experts agree on is that by necessity the “gap” between the two is getting smaller and smaller. In effect, good leaders must deal with managerial issues and good managers must possess, to a degree, good leadership skills.

Authentic Leadership

Leaving the world of management behind, let’s turn our focus to leadership — more specifically authentic leadership. I’m careful to include the term authentic (defined as real or genuine), because all too often what we may witness or be subjected to during our own lives and careers differs dramatically from the “ideal” — from the very terms and characteristics that define authentic leadership.

Challenge: I challenge you to set this article aside for a few minutes, pick up a pen and paper (okay, you can use a laptop, iPad or iPhone) and create a list of your own. Think about the authentic leaders that may have crossed your path or that you’ve read about along your journey and write down the traits and characteristics that make them rise to the top of the proverbial heap. Ask yourself the simple question “What is it that makes them different — that sets them apart from everybody else?”

So how did you do? Were you surprised at all by some of the things that made your list? I have to admit, it amazes me what we come up with when we intentionally take the time to think about something — as well as what we take for granted. Before I share a few of the things that made my list, it might be helpful to back up a step or two and set the stage by starting with what leadership is not. This can be a real stumbling block for some folks but they’ll just need to pick themselves up and get over it.

Ready? Authentic leadership is not a position or a title, sorry. Being a CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, E-I-E-I-O, Managing Partner, Vice President, Director, Manager, Shift Supervisor, President, Owner, fill in the blank, does not make a person a leader. It gives them a certain amount of authority and responsibility but that’s not the same thing. Sadly, many of us could point to all too familiar examples of this truth — people who carry the title but can’t fill the shoes.

With that truth behind us, let’s move forward and get back to some of the items that made my list — a few of which even surprised me. Here we go:

  • Authentic leadership is a privilege. Authentic leaders view their role as an honor, and regard being entrusted with the welfare of others very seriously.
  • Authentic leadership is a trust. Authentic leaders understand the concept of trust — what it means to trust others and to be trustworthy — and trust’s critical role in the relational dynamics with those they lead. They work to strengthen the bonds of trust whenever possible.
  • Authentic leadership is, without exception, always about others.

Check your own list and see how many of the traits you listed are “others-focused” as opposed to “self-focused.” If your list is like mine, it’s every single one!

I could go on and on just about the characteristics of authentic leadership but I hope the point is clear: more than anything authentic leadership is personal. It’s not a 9 to 5 thing that gets turned on when you walk through the door in the morning and turned off at night when you leave. It’s less about what you do and more about who you are. Maybe that’s why in a world where a premium is placed on anything that promotes “self,” authentic leadership can be so difficult to find.

Closing Thoughts

Truth be told, at day’s end all leaders will need to be able to address the more pragmatic concerns of the day. Issues such as dealing with and defining the value of “failure” and mistakes (because we all make them), the power of delegation, micro-management, goals and objectives, project management, discovering and cultivating talent — all need to be dealt with.

But in the end maybe my mother and father, authentic leaders in their own right, knew best when upon my being sent to my room for “nothing,” would lovingly remind me that it’s not what you say, but how you say it that counts. I miss them.

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About the author

Scott Brown

Scott brings over 32 years of leadership experience and nonprofit expertise to his current position as VP of Accounting and Nonprofit Services at SUM Innovation.
After a rewarding enlistment in the US Air Force, Scott finished his degree work at Pace University and started his business career as a Financial Analyst at IBM. For the vast majority of his career Scott has worked in a wide-variety of nonprofit roles including Divisional Finance Director for the Philadelphia School District, Director of Finance and Administration for New York States largest member-supported nature preserve and Director of Operations for one of the premier transatlantic business organizations in the U.S.


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