Date posted: 06/06/2017 3 min read

How bad leadership sabotages progress: part one

Is bad leadership holding back your accounting practice?

In brief

  • Part one of a two-part series investigating leadership best practice in accounting firms.
  • Bad leadership techniques can be a firm’s worst enemy and can impact on productivity.
  • Ten examples of how principals may be undermining the ability for their practice to succeed.

In accounting practices the principals can often be their firm’s worst enemy. This can happen in a number of ways and often the principal may not be aware they are the problem.  

Members in practice should consider whether any of the following are occurring in their practice.

Ten tips for better leadership

  • 1. The wrong plan

    If the business plan doesn’t align with the principal’s goals, it won’t have everyone’s support and will quickly fade into secondary importance. It takes courage to tackle uncomfortable issues, but as the principal in the practice, you must go there.

  • 2. Thank goodness that's over

    It’s all very well to develop an exciting business plan, but the principals need to commit resources to implementing the plan, or it will go nowhere.

    In firms anchored to the status quo, often the principals fail to discuss the business plan regularly and track its progress.

  • 3. If nothing changes then nothing changes

    Not being prepared to delegate client responsibilities and failure to allocate regular time to work on agreed projects means the business plan will go nowhere fast.

  • 4. Not following new systems

    The team has put thought and effort into improving a procedure only to find that one or more of the principals refuses to conform.

    In the short term, an exception is made for the recalcitrant few. But in the long term this sends a powerful message to team members that their input and new systems aren’t important.

  • 5. Dance around longstanding team members

    Principals who tiptoe around seemingly indispensable employees for fear of triggering a resignation create a dysfunctional firm. By continuing to let these employees do their own thing, momentum is quickly destroyed.

    Excusing their absence from team meetings and non-contribution to team targets is bad enough. Acquiescence with their non-standard systems and proprietary airs about their clients is worse. And while putting up with petulance is asking for trouble, rewarding such behaviour with pay rises and guarantees of promotion isn’t how these situations should be handled.

  • 6. Not communicating effectively with one another

    The conditioned response we have to “how’s it going?” is “good, thanks” or “not bad”. Yet, there are times when such exchanges between business partners are simply misleading.

    An astute former colleague implemented a “one to five” response protocol to this question, where “one” was, “Terrible, I’m going out for some fresh air” and “five” was “really terrific”. This proved to be the catalyst for some frank and very productive conversations.

  • 7. Judging partner performance only by revenue produced

    Unfortunately this leads to short-term thinking and discourages cross-referrals. It also implies that implementing agreed business improvement projects is a second rate activity.

  • 8. The eternal bottleneck

    The classic sign of this is an ever-growing pile of files waiting to be reviewed.

    Equally so is partners assuming the role of part-time projects officer or taking on too much work themselves. And please, let’s see an end to partners personally attending to accounts payable and payroll.

  • 9. Engage marketing consultants and not listening to them

    There’s no point engaging marketing specialists to help grow your business and then not responding to their emails and phone calls. Making your marketer work with substandard website developers and photographers is a recipe for mediocrity.

    For such a marketing initiative to work, principals need to actively engage with the consultant. This means being available for scheduled meetings, being prepared to act upon the advice received and taking an active interest in the new collateral being developed.

  • 10. Not being around enough

    Everyone understands that principals need to attend to administrative matters, represent the firm at various events and attend conferences to accumulate sufficient professional development hours.

    However, if there is an overabundance of external commitments, long lunches, exercise sessions in work time, or numerous unexplained absences from the office, then that sends a silent message to the team that their leader’s attention is elsewhere.

If any of the above situations are occurring in your firm, then do something about it. Addressing these issues often requires little by way of direct investment; it’s more a matter of having the courage to address them.  

In some cases this will mean instigating some challenging conversations and amending existing practices. Keep in mind that whether you do or don’t take action, your team members will duly follow your lead.  

This is part one in a two-part series addressing leadership strategies in accounting practices. The soon to be published part two in this series will outline the 10 practices consistently demonstrated by the leaders of high performing firms.  

This article is part of an ongoing Working In Practice column aimed at CAs working in SME accounting practices. If you’ve got something specific that you would like this column to cover, email the Acuity team now.

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