Many CPAs fall into the trap of focusing professional development efforts solely on “hard skills,” continuing to sharpen their technical skills with respect to accounting and financial acumen but ignoring the “soft skills” which are often a key ingredient to successfully moving up the leadership ladder.
Some people have argued that soft skills are attributes that one is born with — you either have them or you don’t. While some of us have more natural leadership traits than others, we all possess the capability to further develop our leadership skills. Consider these five tips to improve your leadership capabilities:
- Hone your communication skills. Whether one-on-one or in group settings, face-to-face or conference calls, the way you communicate with people is critical to your success as a leader. The pace and pitch of your voice, your body language, and your ability to listen are all factors in how much confidence people will have in what you have to say and their perception of you as a leader.
- Develop your presentation skills. It doesn’t matter how many training programs you take on presentation skills if you don’t practice what you learn. As you serve on committees and task forces, seek opportunities to present the findings and recommendations of the group. This will give you experience talking in front of others and help build your confidence.
- Demonstrate professionalism. Be prepared/organized, punctual, dress appropriately, show respect, use appropriate language, use humor sparingly (no jokes!), follow-through on commitments, and embrace other points of view while sharing yours. All of these go into the making of a successful professional and leader.
- Look for leadership opportunities inside and outside your organization. If you are new to leadership roles, make sure you look for hidden opportunities to lead others. Most people wait for leadership opportunities to come about in their organization and it is easy to overlook that something as small as leading a food drive for a local charity is a great way to start practicing leadership skills.
- Seek a mentor. Find someone you admire for their leadership capability and style, and see if they would be willing to mentor you. Most leaders are honored and humbled by the fact that someone aspires to be like them — you are likely to find them extremely excited to help you further develop!
AICPA Board Member, Tom Foard, CPA is the EVP/CFO of Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, a privately-held company that provides distribution and support services to the newspaper industry. In addition to overseeing the financial activities of the business, Tom leads the strategic and business planning initiatives of the company with the leadership team. Prior to joining PCF in March 2001, Tom was VP/CFO of Maryland Baseball and has also held financial positions with Millennium Chemicals and Burlington Industries.
Tom has an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where he was also an undergraduate. In addition to being a Certified Public Accountant, Tom is a Certified Management Accountant and is Certified in Financial Management.