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Three practices to successfully lead during difficult times

By Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive — Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Leading an organisation is challenging at the best of times. During a crisis, the leadership role must be acute. COVID-19 has forced everyone to step up; and I guess that you’re earnestly looking after your people and your business. Leadership includes communicating unpleasant messages and, as the head of an organisation, you set the tone. The past few weeks have made me reflect at length on what makes good leader.

In recent years, defining a good leader has broadened into categories of style. A military general leading an army is but one leadership style. A portfolio of styles allows top jobs to accommodate a variety of personalities and qualities, and leadership is better with a diversity of approach.

Globally, work environments are changing. Many organisations are moving to a more agile way of working — challenging norms while unshackling the business from unnecessary bureaucracy. Additionally, decision making is increasingly being delegated to teams. No wonder there are so many books about leadership. With varying leadership styles, changing work environments and now a global pandemic, how does one become a good leader?

Qualities of a strong leader

What are the attributes of a good leader? Determination? Certainty of purpose? Vision? Many qualities shape effective leadership, but there are three practices that ring true consistently:

  1. Connect the dots between functions.

    Connecting the dots requires knowing skill sets and what the varying teams do, and identifying and communicating the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will drive performance.

    Finance professionals have a leg up — systems thinking is where you shine. You don’t just produce the annual accounts, you collect data, gather insights and offer analysis. You have a unique view of where the money goes and how it should best be spent. You know where business operations can improve. The skills and ability of a finance professional position you to advance to the C-suite.

    This ability means you are well-placed to make a success of Integrated Reporting (<IR>). At the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants — the unified voice of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants® (CIMA®) and the American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA®) — we fully embrace integrated reporting. Showing the value a business creates, and communicating that value transparently is the future of corporate reporting. Integrated reporting is a great way to blend the skills of the finance function with the broader ambitions of the company. Further, integrated reporting demonstrates where the values of a company lie. And what is a leader if not the person who sets the tone for an organisation and embodies its values?

  2. Boldly pursue what you want to achieve.

    Leaders need to keenly set goals. My mantra: Set an ambitious target and pursue it relentlessly. Share those targets to the right people. If you can allow employees to properly use their strengths — and to excel — you will see the benefits, and  retain an exceptional staff. When the staff knows the goals of the company, and how individual contributions lead to collective achievement, the target will be reached.

  3. Grow your emotional intelligence and cultivate resilience.

    Having strong technical expertise does not automatically make you a good leader. It is your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to best collaborate with them that will make the difference, especially if you aim to achieve long-term, challenging goals. An emotional intelligent leader is able to adapt and flex the messages and style depending on the situation. Situations leadership, as it is often called, is dependent on emotional intelligence. As emotional intelligence grows and skin gets thicker, resilience is cultivated. And resilience is fundamental. Practising being resilient will serve you well when you reach the top. The image of a leader who is impervious to setbacks or criticism is unrealistic. It is a recipe for poor mental health and sets the wrong example. Resilience means being able to recover when things go wrong, learn lessons and move on positively. Then, repeat. Anything different lacks authenticity.

These practices aren’t always easy to apply, and there are other factors to consider when picking a leadership approach to take and when choosing the right candidate to lead a team or organisation.

In times of adversity, knowing your business, setting clear goals and using emotional intelligence is a formula for success and will help you and your team withstand the challenge.

If you’d like to learn more about leadership, read our new whitepaper ‘Leadership in hard times’ with a focus on leading during periods of disruption and explore more resources here.

 And don’t forget to sharpen your skills as a transformation leader with Future Mindset.