Opinion Merge Gupta-Sunderji Leadership

Five reasons why accountants make great leaders

Merge Gupta-Sunderji turns managers into great leaders. In this column, Merge gives five reasons why accountants make great leaders

Author: Merge Gupta-Sunderji

ACCOUNTANTS are sometimes referred to as “bean-counters,” “number-crunchers,” and “pencil pushers” and it’s almost never meant as a compliment.

But the reality in today’s workplace is that professionally trained accountants bring far more to the leadership arena than do some other professionals. 

Truth be told, the innate predisposition that draws accountants to the profession in the first place, coupled with the training that is required to achieve the designation, actually make accountants uniquely qualified to be the best leaders in organizations.  

We need to recognize the inherent traits of our profession as significant strengths, and we must elevate them in day-to-day interactions, so that others can recognize them as invaluable assets at the leadership table. Those traits, whether instinctive or learned, inform five reasons why accountants make great leaders: 

1. Professional curiosity

Accountants are trained to be naturally curious, to look for the reason why.

Why don’t those numbers make sense? Why are labour costs up but unit production down? Why are certain entries excluded from the income statement accounts for the month? Why doesn’t the balance sheet balance?

It’s this very trait that compels us to ask lots of questions and listen to the answers; it’s what pushes us to continually seek out additional knowledge. Some accountants come by this quality intuitively, others learn it through the education process. Either way, this natural curiosity is a boon at the leadership level, both in terms of gathering knowledge as well as in building relationships.

2. The ability to step in and step back as needed

One of the key characteristics of successful leaders is the capacity to step back and look at the big picture while also being able dive into the details if it’s necessary to understand the full situation. Many people are good at the former but shudder at the thought of having to delve into the details. But details don’t scare accountants; it’s what we’ve done for days, evenings and weekends, particularly while getting our accreditations.

So accountants, at least in theory, have the skill to see the forest and the trees. The trick of course lies in knowing when to move back and forth between the two levels. Not all accountants seamlessly transition back and forth, but the point is that accountants are capable of doing it, far more than many other professions.

3. A focus on the bottom line

It doesn’t matter whether you operate a for-profit business, or run a not-for-profit society — at the end of the day, the money needs to be managed. While passion for your product or service is paramount, most people will agree that it should never be to a financial detriment.

Organizations are staffed by a variety of people but not everyone can have a laser-focus on the dollars coming in and out. Accountants do. Ironically, it is this very reason that accountants tend get a bad rap, but leaders don’t stay leaders very long unless they’ve got a constant eye on the bottom line. 

4. We call it like it is

Every professional accountant abides by a code of ethics that requires us to practise with integrity. Specifically, we are expected to be straightforward, honest, objective, and fair, and never subordinate professional judgment to external influences or the will of others.  

One of the biggest challenges faced by those in the C-suite is that they are often surrounded by subordinates who manipulate messages to fit what they think the senior people want to hear. Isn’t it reassuring to know that you can count on the accountants on your leadership team to give you an honest and realistic perspective on what is really going on? 

And when this candour is tempered with empathy, it is a recipe to become a leader extraordinaire! 

5. Tenacity comes naturally

Any accountant who has been through a professional program of studies knows that it takes discipline and tenacity to get your designation. It’s this very trait that is an asset at the leadership table as well.  

While many business decisions see immediate outcomes, just as many are strategic in nature, with results not realized until months and years into the future. Often, on the journey to the final goal, short-term effects can be unfavourable, and it takes great presence of mind to persist despite frequent pressure to react in the moment.  

Because of the rigorous training timeline that accountants endure, taking the heat and staying on track is par for the course. This steadfastness and resolve is a valued leadership characteristic. 

The five reasons only work if you put them into action

These five leadership qualities exist in just about every accountant. But they’re only valuable if you exercise them in your working relationships with your colleagues and clients. By demonstrating them in your daily workplace interactions, you will define yourself as a leader, before others define you.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji CPA, CGA (Twitter: @mergespeaks) is a leadership and workplace communication expert who turns managers into leaders, drawing upon her over 17 years of first-hand experience as a leader in corporate Canada. Reach her or join the conversations on her blog at TurningManagersIntoLeaders.com.


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