“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” —Douglas MacArthur
‘Thinking like a leader’ is a quality that may not seem wholly apparent as an essential characteristic to someone who is just about to begin working in the world of professional services or even just at the point of considering working in this field. You may think that leadership comes further down the line in your career; that being a strong accountant or advisor relies more on technical know-how and general communication skills than people management and judgment calls.
But in reality your technical knowledge will be built upon experience and college study. You will find that those with History degrees will soon catch up with those who studied Accountancy or Finance. What really makes you stand out are the qualities desired in great leaders – intuition, confidence and the ability to delegate. To name but a few.
I’ll draw principally from my experience as an auditor, but the points are equally applicable to other roles within the firm.
Firstly, you will find yourself in coaching positions sooner than you might anticipate. Certainly in my department, corporate audit, you will be assisted by new joiners after your first year is through and you will be ‘in-charging’ jobs potentially within your first 18 months. This will involve coaching and delegating to more junior employees. You’ll also be the first point of contact for the client and have full responsibility for completing audit testing within the planned time.
This means you’re going to need to put your leadership hat on pretty early on. You will need to show enthusiasm to motivate your team, you’ll need to delegate work downwards and communicate your expectations well. Confidence is essential as you represent the firm in front of the client and communicate your findings upwards to managers. All this and you’re not even half way through your training contract!
Another vital leadership quality required is judgment. As an auditor, exercising good judgment on the ‘audit risks’ and the testing needed to mitigate those risks is key. Regularly a decision needs to be made on the best way to approach a particular test.
At times you will need to take control of the situation – client information may not be forthcoming or the audit may not go as planned. You’ll need to think on your feet and ensure the work is done within the expected time. And it’s not just about your own time management but that of those assisting you on the job. Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be responsible for ensuring the team’s time is used effectively so that you finish at a good point within budget.
The great thing about Grant Thornton is that you are never static; your responsibilities will grow over time and you should expect to progress to the next level every year. Grant Thornton’s team sizes and the clients we work with enables those leadership roles to exist for trainees.
Finally – following on from Fiona’s blog (http://traineeblog.grant-thornton.co.uk/2013/10/11/wwyab-making-the-right-impression/) on first impressions – if your seniors see in you the qualities and thought processes of a leader early on, you’ll stand out amongst your peers – setting you in good stead for the future.
So going forward I implore you: Think like a leader.