Learning to be the leader you need to be

The four stages of learning apply to leaders, too

IP image

Are you the right kind of leader?

In these times of huge and rapid change, effective leadership is crucial in every organisation, big or small.

But most people aren’t natural leaders (including me). I’ve written before about what defines a good business leader (see In Practice October 2022) but there’s another aspect to it that’s more important than ever…

Adopting a learning mindset

With all the challenges facing the profession just now, leaders need to be open to new ideas, new ways of working, new ways of inspiring and motivating their people. Leaders need to be continually evolving.

And that means learning how to lead people who may not think or behave in the same way you do. Recruitment is such a headache for accountancy firms at the moment so retaining and developing your existing team is critical. As is looking outside the traditional talent pool for new recruits. Truly effective leaders learn the best way to lead every one of their team.

Conscious leadership

I call this ‘conscious leadership’. It means being consciously aware of how you behave and interact with others in your communications and demeanour. So, rather than switching off when someone thinks or communicates in a different way to you, you view their input as something incredibly useful that you might not have considered otherwise.

If you’re aware of the four stages of learning, you’ll know that they start with ‘unconscious incompetence’. In other words, habitually doing things that aren’t right, without even knowing it. Sooner or later though, something happens which makes you realise you’re going wrong. Maybe an interaction with your team didn’t go well or you’ve avoided dealing with a situation because you didn’t know how to handle it. That’s when you move on to ‘conscious incompetence’. Which is an step forward, as at least you now know that you need to improve!

The next stage, ‘conscious competence’, comes when you learn a better way to do things, but it still takes a lot of effort. I liken this stage to the early days of learning to drive: you know everything you should be doing, but you still have to concentrate on which gear you’re in, how high the revs are and how fast you’re going. In fact, there are so many things to consider at the same time that it can feel overwhelming. But, gradually, most of the tasks become habitual and you’re able to do them almost without thinking, leaving all the work to your internal autopilot. At which stage – congratulations! – you’ve reached the stage of ‘unconscious competence’.

Learning from mistakes

Like everyone else, leaders make mistakes. But all too often, leaders won’t admit this, believing that they’ll lose authority or respect if they show any signs of weakness. So even if they recognise they’re in the ‘unconscious incompetence’ stage, they don’t do anything about it.

Learning leaders take the opposite approach. They acknowledge where they’ve gone wrong and actively seek to improve. And they adapt their leadership style to fit the people they’re dealing with. Adapting your approach doesn’t mean you lose control or compromise on standards: it simply means you spend time seeking to understand the other person first, then to be understood yourself.

As I’ve said before, the role of a leader is to inspire and motivate their team and to create an environment where each person can flourish. And that means learning how best to lead as circumstances and people change.

Shane Lukas – AVN for Accountants

There are hundreds more ideas, insights and tips to help you develop your accountancy firm in The Accountants KnowHow Club. Whether you're looking to better price your services, attract higher-quality clients, provide more value, recruit the right team, build your advisory skills, network effectively or leverage your time and income, the club has got you covered. Find out more.