When Good Management Isn't Enough

AICPA book offers path to engaged leadership to help firms grow

December 13, 2011

NEW YORK (Dec. 13, 2011)--Is happiness a well-run CPA firm? Not necessarily, according to Troy Waugh, author of a new primer on practice leadership from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Waugh’s book, Leading an Accounting Firm: The Pyramid of Success, makes a key distinction between ordinary management and the kind of incisive leadership that ensures a firm will thrive.  He contends that many firms are well-managed and “underled.”

AICPA research bears this out, to a degree. This year’s Private Companies Practice Session survey, for example, found that “partner accountability,” in terms of contributions to business and staff development, is one of the top two concerns for firms with 11 or more professionals.

“Leadership is about direction, strategy, effectiveness,” Waugh says. “Management is more about efficiency. If you manage people like you manage projects, they will feel manipulated. They have to buy into your vision of where you’re going.”

To lead a team of motivated professionals, it’s vital to communicate where you plan the firm to go, how you’ll get there—and most importantly, what the team will get out of it. The challenge: Many CPAs are “reluctant communicators,” according to Waugh.

Using a pyramid as a model for organizing principles, Waugh says practice leaders first need to work on self-knowledge, acknowledging weaknesses as well as strengths. Other keys include:

  • Mentoring and staff training that boosts professional development for employees
  • A leadership approach that balances accountability with empowerment
  • Putting the right business processes in place, with systems that accurately measure progress
  • A strategic vision and core values that everyone in the firm can embrace
  • Last but not least, a succession plan for leaders that ensures lasting success.

Waugh, a consultant who routinely appears on Accounting Today’s Top 100 list of influential people in the profession, solicited comments and insights from dozens of key figures within accounting. Many agreed that, while some people are born with innate leadership skills, others can cultivate those same abilities.

“You can learn to be great leader,” Waugh says, “no matter what your personality may be.”

To arrange an interview with Troy Waugh or receive a review copy of the book, please contact Jeff May, (212) 596-6122 or jmay@aicpa.org.