For career success and a position in a firm’s upper echelons, accountants are going to have to embark on a personal development journey, says Ayalla Reuven-Lelong
This article was first published in the April 2019 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
To lead and remain relevant in today’s fast-moving business environment, accountancy firms need to ensure that partners and employees alike have a ‘winning personal value proposition’.
To help develop the skills to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution, we need to consider five key areas, which were identified following interviews with partners from Big Four and other firms, members of the C suite, HR leaders, learning and development leaders, and academics. The five areas can be modelled as a metaphorical journey to five lands that every accountant should undertake to succeed.
The first area is mindset. Stanford University professor Carol Dweck identifies two types: fixed and growth. The growth mindset is a prerequisite for success in a world where change has become the new normal.
Accountants with a fixed mindset assume that an individual’s character, talents, intelligence and creative abilities are static and unchangeable. They tend to stay in their comfort zone and resist change or personal development process. It’s an approach that weakens their personal value proposition.
Those with a growth mindset believe that most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. They enjoy challenges and treat failure as a springboard for growth and an opportunity to stretch their existing abilities. They are willing to step out of their comfort zones, put in the effort, and practise and develop new skills and competencies to build a winning personal value proposition.
Tomorrow’s practitioners, especially those in leadership positions, need to have a growth mindset and be able to apply it in five different domains:
- professional skills
- technology and innovation
- emotional intelligence
- business value.
ACCA’s Emotional quotient in a digital age report also supports the need for a growth mindset, flagging it as a key enabler for developing emotional intelligence and stretching abilities.
The second area accountants should work on is thinking with both sides of the brain. The left side of the brain deals with rational, analytical, methodological, problem-solving and logical abilities, while the right processes feelings, imagination, abstractions and associations, vision, creativity and holistic thinking. Historically, successful accountants have displayed strong left-brain skills. In future they need to be ‘whole brain’ thinkers – critical and strategic thinkers, analytical and methodological, yet also intuitive, visionary, creative, relationship-driven and passionate.
ACCA also highlights the need for these varied skills through its research into ‘professional quotients’. According to ACCA’s Drivers of change and future skills report, the qualities needed for success include left-brain abilities such as intelligence, technical and ethical skills, as well as right-brain skills such as creativity and vision.
The successful accountants of the future, especially in leadership positions, will see the big picture, be able to connect the dots, and be highly creative and innovative. Those qualities will provide their clients and employees with a winning value proposition. They will put relationships at the heart of their everyday life and do their best to maintain positive relationships with team members and clients – relationships based on trust and respect.
A vital part of developing whole-brain thinking is mining/using emotional intelligence, or EQ – the third key area. The ability to use social and emotional skills will be vital in the workplace of the future; it is where humans have the edge over machines, and becomes humans’ unique value-add. Firms need to take these human skills and combine them with artificial intelligence to create a culture of augmented intelligence.
Of course, we also need to look to the long term and make sure these changes in approach are sustainable given the giddy pace of change. In other words, we need to find a way to stay on the boat as it rushes down the rapids. Sticking the course is the fourth key area, and is easier if you can:
- find a sense of purpose by measuring your personal success by the positive influence you have on your team, clients and society
- retain a degree of optimism, choosing to see the glass as half full and helping colleagues do the same
- manage your career proactively and take full ownership of your own development
- build your social capital, developing a network of relationships that can support you during the tough times
- manage your own wellbeing by ensuring you get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and engage in activities that make you happy.
Finally, key area five: you need to be able to reinvent yourself using the skills and competencies you acquire as you go through your career. It’s worth thinking about how the profession will look in the next five years and developing any skills you may need to succeed in this new world. Building a strong personal brand will pay dividends over time, both within your firm and in the market.
Ayalla Reuven-Lelong is CEO of Israel-based strategic change consultancy EQ-EL and co-creator of the ‘five lands’ model.
"Accountants with a growth mindset enjoy challenges and treat failure as an opportunity to stretch their existing abilities"