Shelly Mohammed, head of ACCA Caribbean
Employers want candidates with leadership potential, but what if you feel this isn’t you? Can you have a career in finance if you don’t aspire to lead?
Leadership skills are among those most sought after by accountancy and finance employers, 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 – people at all grades and in all areas of their business – to be leaders.
Some students, however, don’t feel they are leadership material. Many don’t want to become a partner, CFO or CEO either. Does this mean they should abandon their studies and rethink accountancy as a career? Not at all. It is the doers and followers who bring leaders’ ideas to life.
Leadership isn’t always about being at the very top of an organisation.
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 excited about it, bringing them along on a journey and supporting them along the way is the hallmark of a true leader. In a modern business, such leaders are needed at every level, so trainees and newly qualified accountants must be prepared to step up into that role too.
Learning to lead
Indeed, you should develop your leadership skills even if you think you are not leadership material. You will need empathy, courage, emotional intelligence, accountability, integrity, communication and presentation skills throughout your professional life.
In addition to being able to deal with and make sense of the unexpected, seek out evidence to support decision-making, being in the finance sector will require you to interpret and utilise financial information to optimise business performance, and evaluate risk and reward in a constructive manner.
There is another aspect of leadership that you simply must master for a successful professional career, regardless of your rank.
Think about the following:
• Can you control your emotions and behaviour regardless of the circumstances?
• Do you make your own decisions and choices, or do you always wait until you are told what to do?
• Do you modify your thoughts and actions to do what is most important right now? For example, do you sometimes decide to work late, without having been asked – not to put in some face-time, but to finish a report you know a client is keen to get as soon as possible?
In other words, are you focused, proactive, disciplined and dedicated in striving to achieve your personal goals and the objectives of your organisation? If so, you are a self-led person.
This is very important because leadership begins on the inside, it begins with you. Until you learn to lead or direct yourself, you will never be able to lead others. Self-leadership requires high levels of self-awareness and, often, the courage to swim against the tide.
Keep an open mind
Still not convinced you have what it takes to lead others one day? Even if you won’t put yourself forward as a natural leader and are happier to follow, this doesn’t mean you don’t have leadership potential. Often, leadership is a natural progression that evolves out of a role and with experience. With experience comes confidence to guide others. Guiding others is a leadership role.
Stepping up to leadership – of people, departments or whole organisations – is a future career choice, and so not something you need to worry about now.