Leadership means different things to different people. Global finance leaders who are also ACCA members give their leadership tips
This article was first published in the September 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Simon Small FCCA
‘Emotional intelligence is very important in leadership, as is self-awareness as part of that. You need to work out and be clear about what you want to do, but then bring the people along with you. Management is getting men into the trench; leadership is persuading them over the top. It’s about getting them to do something they didn’t know they wanted to do.
‘Professions attract certain types of people. Accountancy is work associated with tasks and regulation and will naturally attract people who want to do that sort of thing. It’s a transactional, task-based mentality.
‘I say to young graduates, if you want to stand out in finance, be good at people management and the commercial aspects of business.
‘You can definitely learn people skills – I have. In my early career, I would run away from a stage but now I can’t pass one without standing on it. I want to communicate what we’re doing and what needs to be done, and why. I want to win over hearts and minds. I see that as essential.
‘Early in my career I remember having to explain net present value to about 10 people – I sat them around a table and read out 10 pages of a script I’d prepared. There was tumbleweed, but I learned from that. Resilience is important – being able to get up when you’re knocked over.’
CEO of insurer Equitable Life, UK
Jonathan Blanchard FCCA
‘All businesses I have worked in have had periods of strong growth and then when trading is more difficult. In turnaround, you focus on the key issues holding the business back and improve them. In any business, you need drive, energy and resilience – in turnaround, you need those characteristics in bucketloads.
‘Leadership is incredibly important. A leader needs to have conviction. Too often, a leader’s confidence is easily shaken; you do need strong inner belief to make changes and inspire your team. That is what leading by example is about.
‘Leadership is also about a strong work ethic – not necessarily working long hours but efficiently.’
CFO of clothes retailer Reiss, UK
Brian Ierland FCCA
‘Leadership is helping people on a journey, often when they don’t feel confident of the route. It is recognising their individual needs to help them move.
‘As leaders we set direction – some call it vision – and then take people with us. And that can be difficult; you are dealing with ambiguity. Often, there is no right or wrong answer.’
FD of aerospace company BAE Systems’ Air sector
Caroline Ackroyd FCCA
‘As a leader you have to be trusted and honest. As well as working with teams and individuals, leaders provide autonomy – they let people get on with the job and make their own mistakes. We want to feel part of something if we are to feel motivated and to have purpose.
‘Leadership is about personal development, allowing people to move on in their careers. Recently two of my direct reports have moved on to FD roles. It is about recognising quickly when people are ready for those moves.’
Director of commercial finance of gaming company Sky Bet
‘Leadership has three broad elements and characteristics. First, vision and creativity: what opportunities could this organisation grasp? Second is courage: trying to do new things or behaving differently, positioning yourself for a projected future, dealing with ambiguity – a leader has to be willing to run risks. Third, at a lofty level to inspire; at a more prosaic level to influence and persuade that your vision is worth pursuing. It can be lonely to act on a vision – you need people with you to make it happen.’
CEO of the International Federation of Accountants (see interview, page 12)