Small business strategist and coach Thomson Training
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Born to lead? How any accountant can be a leader

Leadership coach Helen Froggett-Thomson believes anyone can be a leader. She uses the work she did at the Accountancy Practice to explain how.

11th Feb 2020
Small business strategist and coach Thomson Training
Columnist
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Leadership
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What is acceptable as a leadership style now is completely different to the dictatorial style many associate with historical managerial approaches. People no longer want to be told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Perhaps they never did! But they certainly accepted it and put up with it. Whilst slagging off the management over a coffee!

Everything is more transparent now, or at least that’s where it’s heading. And because of this, people expect a more empathetic, inclusive leadership style. I believe that you can train people to be leaders, if they have the necessary vision and (very importantly) have the desire to lead people to the new destination.

What is a leader?

I feel that the key to being a leader is

1) Having a clear vision of where you want the company to be, by when; and

2) Having a passionate belief and self confidence that you can make the decisions to get you there

Without that drive and motivation I have seen people struggle to lead with conviction. And in the process they lose respect of their team and become an ineffective figure head.

Trust is an important element and demonstrable communication of that trust is vital. Personal empowerment and access to leaders is expected and the MD no longer has to ‘know everything’. They have to be able to delegate. To rely on the skills of team members, for whom training has been arranged or coaching provided to do their jobs.

Essentially, so they generate the outcomes needed for the business to function properly and grow as planned.

I believe that this transition has opened up the door for people who would not normally consider themselves as management material to develop into roles which are highly beneficial for themselves and the business they are working in.

Case study: The Accountancy Practice

One such example would be The Accountancy Practice in Royston, Herts.

I got involved with this family run business in April 2018 at the request of the founder John. Having started the business as a one man band twenty years before, he was struggling to hand over the reins to his two sons. At 28 and 20, they had each been working with him for just over three years and been taking their exams. But John wanted to work on a part time basis and so changes needed to be made.

The first thing we did was sit down together and agree what outcomes were desired, from which I wrote training material to cover on two separate days of coaching with the sons.

John said he noticed a marked difference in the behaviour and attitude of his sons the very next day. He said they were noticeably more confident. He had hardly ever heard his youngest son talk business in the office or contribute to discussions and his eldest seemed to have stepped up to a different level of engagement.

What goes into leadership training

In the sessions we initially covered essential communication skills, such as empathy, compassionate communication and assertiveness, active listening, open questioning and transactional analysis. This underpinning knowledge and insight would enable them to handle difficult conversations (because we can all handle the easy ones!) and be aware of classic pitfalls which careless communication generates.

Bad habits can go unnoticed for years, especially in a family business where people are often used to putting up with behaviour which they inadvertently copy.

In the second session we covered more specific leadership issues and approaches, discussing best practice and laid to rest any false expectations or assumptions about having to follow in their fathers’ footsteps or copy his somewhat autocratic decision making style.

Prior to the training, David’s father had expressed the desire for him to get more involved with running the business. However, he had shied away from decision making and expressing his true feelings to his father because he wasn’t sure it was “his place”.

He was aware that he didn’t always agree with this father but was deferentially respectful, believing that his dad’s experience counted for a lot and that his dad knew best.

The coaching sessions reassured him that his father meant what he had said about taking over the business, allowed him to really consider how he would take the business forward and reassured him about the transition as he felt the succession was being “handled properly”.

Empowered the step up

Armed now with the tools to express himself assertively, as opposed to aggressively or passively, he felt empowered to step up and work alongside his father initially, in a mutually respectful manner. And then gradually take over more decision making, until he reached the position he is in now, as managing director.

Having been unaccustomed to speaking in public, giving presentations or speaking up in meetings, he is now the one to run the monthly team meetings, follow up the agreed outcomes and also arranges strategic business meetings. He has created a vision of the company’s future which excites him and his enthusiasm is clear for all to see.

He is the one generating the cash flow forecasts and keeping an eye on the sales position and the costs. He meets all the new clients. He is demonstrating that he is the leader.

David explains that one of the key factors which increased his confidence considerably was the realisation that he didn’t need to “know everything” in the way his father did.

Having initially agreed a series of meetings where his father talked him through how he reads accounts, what information to ascertain from the clients to understand how the figures had arisen etc, he now feels slightly differently.

How leadership training has changed the practice

He now feels that it’s not necessary to know everything himself, but that all the required knowledge is accessible through someone in the ten-strong-team. And he trusts them all to deliver what is necessary and if they are not sure, to know that they can come to him to discuss anything troubling them.

A recent job evaluation and role clarification exercise, coupled with a dovetailed appraisal system has ensured that everyone is playing to their strengths and the energy in the business is high. The leadership style has changed in the office. But not only that, the clients first point of contact is usually David, all client emails and queries are handled by David and Adam, while John is only involved for complex cases.

David clearly demonstrated these leadership skills during a recent presentation for Hertfordshire Business Awards Best Family Business category. The significant positive factor according to the judges was that everyone in the company spoke as part of the hour long presentation. This would have been inconceivable two years ago.

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