Looking beyond the numbers for financial professional leadership

by Sharon Donaldson

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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Leadership means different things to different people. For some, it's about being good at your job and being well liked. For others, it's all about being in charge of everyone.

Being a great leader should be an aspiration of any finance professional. Whether you are the managing director or a shift leader, the way you lead has a huge impact on everyone you work with. Leaders have the power to change the organisations around them. They make a difference to the business, rather than just making the business work. Leadership is about what you do and attaining skills that can be applied to the tasks that occur in every business.

As professionals increase their knowledge of the profession, so do the opportunities for leadership roles in the workplace.

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) supports its students in this area. As part of the ACCA qualification re-design there's a new Strategic Business Leader exam which is designed to mirror the workplace and presents students with real-world challenges.

The exam will require candidates to take on various roles within the main organisation, or in connected organisations such as consultancy practices, audit or regulatory authorities, or other connected stakeholders. Tasks set will be practical, requiring students to apply any models, theories or techniques they deem appropriate to complete the task. The assessment is marked how the task is completed and whether the objectives of the task have been achieved, allowing students to apply the right technical, ethical and professional skills to tasks that would be expected in the workplace.

The syllabus brings together core areas from governance, risk and strategy, links to other leadership areas such as organisational control, innovation and change management – and uses new technologies and data analytics.

Ethics remain crucial. ACCA pioneered ethics when it introduced the Professional Ethics Module, and it remains a core element of the ACCA Qualification.

Every exceptional leader has developed and honed their leadership skills, continuously learning and developing over time to shape their leadership success.

By 2020, all professional accountants will need to develop and balance the necessary professional quotients to fit their role and stage of career. The seven qualities that have been identified in ACCA's Professional accountant – the future research are the key drivers shaping the profession over the next decade and beyond:

• Technical and ethical competencies (TEQ): The skills and abilities to perform activities consistently to a defined standard while maintaining the highest standards of integrity, independence and scepticism.

• Intelligence (IQ): The ability to acquire and use knowledge: thinking, reasoning and solving problems.

• Creativity (CQ): The ability to use existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas.

• Digital quotient (DQ): The awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices, strategies and culture.

• Emotional intelligence (EQ): The ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.

• Vision (VQ): The ability to anticipate future trends accurately by extrapolating existing trends and facts, and filling the gaps by thinking innovatively.

• Experience (XQ): The ability and skills to understand customer expectations meet desired outcomes and create value.

Individually they are not new to the profession, but together these skills represent how finance professional can proactively manage the future, enhance their preparedness for the unknown and help them to succeed.

The seven skills aren't meant as a checklist but a guide. It can help professionals recognise where they may excel and where they need to improve through continuous professional development, all of which professional accountants already know to do so well.

Tomorrow's leaders need to be aware of increased regulation and stronger governance, which is expected to have the greatest impact on the profession over the longer term. All members of the profession will be affected directly or indirectly and to varying degrees and regional variations will also influence regulation and governance.

Digital technologies are also a major driver for change as they will transform the role and the competencies that accountants require. Smart software systems will eventually replace manual work (like bookkeeping) as well as automating more complex and multifaceted processes such as the financial close.

All professional accountants will be expected to look beyond the numbers, and to possess a variety of skills. They will need to meet more frequent requests for holistic and forward-looking information, and may also face demand for more frequent ad-hoc reporting from stakeholders as the barriers are eroded between financial and non-financial performance.

And finally, continuing globalisation is leading to an increased rate of change and economic volatility. Professional accountants will need the interpersonal skills to work as part of a diverse team. Finance professionals will be working with team members around the world and from younger generations who have different aspirations and expectations from previous generations.

Leaders are forever needed for the future to maximise productivity, shape a positive culture and ensure organisations succeed. Some people are natural leaders, but anyone can develop the skill set needed with some practice.

Sharon Donaldson is managing director of General Accident Insurance Company Limited and Senior Lecturer at Richmond Academy.




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