Take the Fast Track to Leadership Success

By Deanna C. White

As companies across the globe may be finding both their expansion plans and their ability to deal with the worldwide financial crisis stymied by a severe shortage of talent, a new report from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) finds that financial professionals may never have experienced a better opportunity to advance their careers and create a broader role for themselves in their organizations.
The CGMA report, The Fast-Track to Leadership - The Challenges, Opportunities, and Action Plan, released July 18, 2012, concludes that not only are CFOs across the world experiencing an acute need to hire proven financial talent, they are also looking for that financial talent to step beyond its traditional debit and credit mentality and provide insightful, strategic leadership to the company.
"The world financial crisis demands effectiveness and efficiency in a finance team, and it also demands the need to be a strategic partner in the company," said Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, senior vice president, management accounting, AICPA. "Companies also are beginning to realize that if they can effectively partner their finance professionals with their business professionals, they will make better decisions. They will create a sustainable business."

The CGMA Action Plan

Ten steps that will move your career forward:

1. Plan your career, then be flexible and adapt.

2. Own your career – take charge of making it happen.

3. Maintain your finance and accounting skills.

4. Develop your communication capability – both written and verbal across different communication channels.

5. Collaborate and partner – be an effective team player.

6. Invest in yourself – it is all about lifelong learning.

7. Be proactive in getting support – look for supportive mentors.

8. Move outside your comfort zone – take the unconventional route.

9. Build professional networks – relationships are key.

10. Drive to become an expert in your chosen field.

- Fast-Track to Leadership report
That growing realization, Thomas said, is literally shattering the outmoded "silo mentality," when finance professionals were isolated and chained to their spreadsheets, debits, and credits, while the business end of the operation handled front-of-the- house operations, such as competition, marketing, and reporting.
"One of the things the report really emphasized was that CFOs across the globe are looking for finance professionals who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and embrace the business side of the operation," Thomas said. "It is really easy to bring data to the table, but being part of the solution and bringing your passion is what will put you on the fast track."
The global senior executives interviewed for the report identified eight "key capabilities" management accountants need to adopt in order to succeed in their organization, and four key traits that are "must haves."
Eight key capabilities:
  1. Finance specialism – the fundamentals. 
  2. Information for insight – being part of the solution. 
  3. Commercial and business acumen.
  4. Communication and collaboration.
  5. Experience with major projects and strategic initiatives, in and out of finance.
  6. Local and global perspectives and exposure to different markets and cultures.
  7. Leadership and talent management. 
  8. Strategic vision. 
Four core traits:
  1. Personal and professional integrity. 
  2. Objectivity and independence.
  3. Intellectual curiosity. 
  4. Passion.
But the greatest overall takeaway of the report, Thomas said, is the fact that management accountants have to adapt two key behaviors to put themselves on the fast track: they need to have an action plan and they need to be flexible.
"There is always a little hope and prayer in career planning, but we find that those who are really successful, those who rise to the top, really plan their career and consistently review that plan," Thomas said. "And they are flexible. They are willing to divert from the plan if needed, and they are willing to take the unconventional route to take on new roles."
Research for the report was conducted by AICPA and CIMA, who formed a joint venture to establish the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation to elevate the profession of management accounting, and sponsored by recruitment firm Hays. 
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