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Leadership qualities need to be embraced by the number crunchers too!

Leadership qualities are sought after in every role and those in finance offer no exception. However, it’s important to decipher what the much used term means. There’s an implicit assumption that leaders are budget holders with responsibility for the ‘pay & rations’ of others as well as for their performance, development and well-being.

However, if we think specifically about leadership qualities, top of my list is the capacity and appetite to communicate and engage with others. I’m not thinking about someone with wonderful oratory skills or the ‘gift of the gab’. I’m referring to people who can confidently build rapport with colleagues, customers and suppliers in a manner that promotes good practice and creates an inclusive working environment. If you’re unable to demonstrate these qualities then the value you offer to any organisation is severely compromised.

In all the finance roles I’ve experienced it is these qualities that have singled out the most effective operators from the rest of the pack. Of course your professional skills need to be ‘spot on’, but once in post these are a given and no longer the sole differentiator of your overall contribution. Your ability to support the business population comply with financial regulations and interpret and utilise financial information to optimise performance become the differentiators.

In addition to your professional qualifications, organisations need people with the capacity to deal with and make sense of the unexpected, seek out evidence in support of their decision-making and to evaluate risk and reward in a challenging and constructive manner. While these are a necessity for budget holders they’re also in demand for all others. A leader may be the final arbiter in decision making, however without these skills being present within his or her team I’d question the validity of the data set upon which decisions are made.

For those entering or have recently joined the world of work I would keep an open mind as to what career path you should follow. Once you’ve been led and therefore exposed to the challenges that come with leading others and assessed your own capacity to deal with such challenges you’ll be in better position to decide. In your profession, it’s not until much later that many decide the areas in which to specialise. In doing so the breadth and depth of experience gained proves invaluable.

There’s no need to discount options until you’re clear about your own preferences. Until the moment of choice beckons embrace leadership development as eagerly as your professional qualifications. These qualities will serve you well whatever career choices you make.

An extract from this article was published in Student Accounting – ACCA, January 2019.

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