Leadership Isn’t Just for CEOsBy
Especially for early to midcareer professionals, leadership is tough, which is why it’s so important.
As a part of the inaugural 2015 class of the IMA Young Professional Experience, a 2016 winner of the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Young Professional of the Year Award, and a member of the 2017 class of the AICPA Leadership Academy, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to receive top-quality training and advice. As a Millennial who is striving to develop into a leader, I garnered insights through these experiences that continue to help me in my professional and personal journey.
Now, as a new member of the IMA Leadership Academy faculty, I have the opportunity to share some of my insights and advice with you. Numerous articles and books have been written about leadership, the importance of leadership, and examples of organizations that have suffered from mediocre leaders. Even with all of this coverage, which also includes seminars, podcasts, and social media outreach by organizations and individuals, leadership can remain a frustrating topic for many people. A possible core reason links back to the very nature of leadership: It’s difficult to quantify just what specifically makes a good leader. In the age of data analytics, blockchain, and artificial intelligence, the underlying assumption is that everything can be measured, modeled, and quantified. Particularly for Millennials, the up-and-coming Generation Z, and other early to midcareer professionals, this frustration can be acutely painful.
In my experience working in industry (at a for-profit and a not-for-profit), and now in academia, the following paradox is increasingly evident. Leaders are leaders, and no matter when they entered the workforce, virtually everyone can point to what they consider to be examples of good and poor leadership. It’s getting started along one’s own leadership journey that’s the challenge.
1. Nothing happens overnight. Early to midcareer professionals, no matter what era or generational labels are assigned to them, are almost always categorized as wanting to immediately take charge and lead. While the executives of many companies seem to have found overnight success in the path to their organizations’ market dominance (Facebook, Uber, Slack, etc.), the reality is that developing leadership traits and qualities takes time, energy, and effort.
Start today, raise your hand, send that email, make that call, and begin developing into the leader you want to become. One of the best things you can do to develop into a well-rounded professional and leader is to force yourself to learn and experience new things. Even just 30 minutes a day learning something new adds up to several hours a week spent on self-improvement—definitely a worthwhile investment.
2. Leadership doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Leadership is a lot like business, and neither one of them can happen separately from the people running the operations. Technology can help, but in order to really succeed as a leader you have to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Admitting the latter may not always be easy, but investing in bettering yourself is never a mistake.
One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Conducting this self-assessment is almost guaranteed to be eye-opening and to point you in the right direction.
3. Leverage the professionals. The IMA Leadership Academy has a wealth of information about leadership and how to develop and grow in both technical and qualitative areas, and it’s available to all IMA members. In addition to this great resource, CareerDriver® is a tool that can help you frame just what you want to focus on in your personal leadership plan. I found the assessments and resources embedded within the CareerDriver tool to not only be helpful but to also provide action-oriented advice in addition to concepts and ideas.
On top of that, many companies (most likely including your own) and other professional associations offer training, education, and development for employees. So don’t be shy to ask about them.
4. Start today. Circling back to point No. 2, becoming a leader is a lot more than any specific project or organization you happen to be involved in at the present time. Volunteering for new projects, initiatives, and cross-training opportunities is the simplest and most effective way to demonstrate to your organization that you want to develop. On top of that, taking these steps helps you learn new skills, meet new people, and gain hands-on (always the best) experience working outside your comfort zone.
A trap that I’ve seen many individuals fall into is to focus all of their energies on either (1) what they are doing well at this time or (2) what has worked for them up until this point. If you want to get better, lead more effectively, and develop as a professional, you must always be pushing yourself to learn and engage with new information outside your comfort zone.
5. Think outside the box. Becoming a leader, developing your leadership skills, and growing as a person and as a professional can be done both inside and outside the office. Look for organizations that might be able to use your expertise, give back to your alma mater, and become engaged in local institutions that are asking for volunteers. Without a doubt, doing so will make you more well-rounded, encourage you to think differently about certain situations, and enable you to grow and develop. The surprise is this: There is no box, no one way of doing things that is perfect, and the only way to lead is to continuously seek improvement.
Leadership is a continuum, not a specific point or place, and you can start developing your leadership skills right now. So step up, seize the challenges inherent in any project, and start growing into your potential today. IMA, the profession, and I are behind you.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.