Achieving a coveted promotion that takes you to the management level usually means a salary increase and higher stature within your organization. But entering the management ranks also means a strong shift in your role, turning you from someone who is independent and responsible for your own work to a leader responsible for the team’s work and development.
Unless you have taken courses in management, this new role is something you didn’t learn in college, said Louis Griego, CPA, senior manager, Nuclear Deterrence Program Planning and Controls at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., who spoke Wednesday at the AICPA ENGAGE 2018 conference in Las Vegas.
“Often those who are promoted are ill-prepared,” he said. “They may be great at doing technical work and they may be great CPAs, but they may not have great leadership skills that will enable them to be great leaders.”
However, leadership is a skill that can be learned. New managers can develop their leadership skills by taking part in educational programs, such as the AICPA Leadership Academy or EDGE or by reading books on management and leadership. “In addition to improving your skill set,” Griego said, these programs can teach you to “recognize your own leadership style and your potential to grow into a leadership role.”
Griego has a few tips for CPAs who aspire to management or find themselves in a new leadership role:
Understand what it means to be a manager: Entering the management ranks means handling human resources issues, attending more meetings, and working within a new bureaucracy. But even more than that, managers must relish their team’s success as much as their own, Griego said. “As a manager, you must be motivated by helping others succeed and enabling your team to meet its collective goals,” he said.
He pointed out three challenges new managers face: identifying the new skill sets you need as your mindset shifts into management mode, developing a vision for your department or team, and convincing your employees to buy into that vision.
As a new manager, one of your top responsibilities is to build an effective team. Good teamwork creates synergy and amplifies each employee’s work product, so the sum of their collective efforts is greater than their individual contributions. “If you are working as an individual, your output is related to the volume of work you are able to do by yourself,” Griego said. “But if you are leading a team, your work as a leader is amplified by what the entire team achieves.”
Learn to be relatable and transparent: Learning to be transparent and accountable to others will create trust, and trust helps build relationships. “People want to know who you are before they will decide to follow you,” Griego said.
It is helpful for managers to have a natural charisma, but these skills can be learned. You can be an effective leader by developing soft skills such as empathy or by learning to be a better listener, Griego said. “Because you work through others, you must develop the characteristics you need for others to want to follow you,” he noted.
Seek out mentors: Mentors are valuable resources for any aspiring leader. And you don’t need to settle for just one. “You may turn to a variety of different mentors for different learning experiences — those who offer a variety of distinctive characteristics or styles you admire,” Griego said.
Mentors are not hard to find. You can meet potential mentors at your workplace, by becoming active in one or more AICPA divisions or in your state CPA society, or by getting involved with local civic groups in your community.
As a new leader, you may find working through others to achieve the overall goals of your department or entire organization may be challenging, but if you are willing to work hard to develop your leadership skills, climbing the next rung on your career ladder can be a step in the right direction.
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, a JofA editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.