Is Your Leadership Style Subpar?

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By Alexandra DeFelice

Do the leaders in your firm nurture your staff's desires to grow and learn, or are they diminishing your employees' potential by failing to communicate?

A significant gap exists in what characteristics accountants at all levels value in their leaders and what they believe their current leaders actually demonstrate, according to a white paper written by members of The CPA Consultants' Alliance, whose mission is to explore leadership issues facing the CPA profession and develop and share solutions that benefit practitioners. 

The CPA Firm Leadership: Communication Drives New Possibilities white paper is the outcome of a research study focused on current and future leadership opportunities and challenges in the accounting profession. One challenge of great concern is the significant number of baby boomers expected to retire in the next two decades. 

When respondents were asked what three leadership characteristics were most important to them, the majority said "has integrity", followed by "able to develop a strong team and delegate to them", and "visionary" came in third. 

While owners, partners, shareholders, and administrators all identified the above three characteristics in the same order of priority, there were differences in the other levels: 

  • Associates listed "honesty" as second.
  • Seniors chose "generous and willing to invest in and mentor others" as third.
  • Managers chose "is accountable" as third.
  • Senior managers/directors selected "is trusted" as second.
  • "Visionary" dropped off the top three for associates, seniors, managers, and senior managers/ directors.

When asked to identify three leadership characteristics they feel are missing in the leadership environment in which they currently work, the majority of respondents selected "communicates at the right time to the right audience", followed by "able to develop a strong team and delegate to them", and "visionary" came in last. 

The survey also asked respondents to share one piece of advice or make one request of their firm's leadership team. Based on keywords or themes, the top three areas of advice or requests were made in these areas:

  1. Leadership, strategy, vision, and decision making
  2. Employee relations, investment, training, acknowledgement and respect, compensation, and fairness
  3. Communication and change

One theme that stands out among the open-ended responses is the desire for involvement in contributing to the firm's success, as indicated in the following piece of advice from one survey participant: "Communicate a shared vision and create a vibrant environment that puts the right people in the right seats on the bus and encourages everyone to keep the bus pointed in the right direction at the right speed."

So what can you do with this information?

The authors provide some suggestions:

  • Start by with sharing the white paper with the owners, partners, and shareholders of your firm, then schedule a time to discuss their thoughts and how the ideas apply to your firm's current environment and desired future state.
  • Survey your entire team (including administrative staff), asking them to assess how your firm's leadership measures up in certain categories outlined in the survey.
  • Conduct town hall meetings or small focus groups to garner feedback.
  • Form a task force to implement specific ideas and communicate what is happening along the way.

"Your team members are clearly asking for you to share what you know with them as often and as clearly as possible. The overwhelming cry we heard is for better communication from leadership and to be truly heard by them, as well", the authors wrote. "We believe that firms that strengthen leadership and management skills at all levels will find enterprising ways to truly engage their people - retaining them and securing their firm's legacy for the future."

The study and analysis is based on a leadership survey of more than 780 CPA firm respondents of the CPA profession's current and projected demographics. Download the full white paper and firm leadership discussion guide at

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About the author:

Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in almost 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at [email protected].


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