My communication skills clearly weren’t doing the job for me or for the production manager. It was the umpteenth time I had found that his copy of the monthly management report was trashed unread. His comment: There was no useful information in it for him. I thought there was tons of information for him in there, but every month I tried to present the report differently to give him the information he needed. I’d tried to get him to tell me how he needed it, but all I could get from him was that I wasn’t doing it. I was getting very frustrated, but one more time I went back to find the format that would click for him.
This time, I decided that maybe a pie chart would help. To my relief, when it was presented to him in that format, he said, “Finally, I’ve got something I can work with!” Same information, different picture. That time it communicated something to him, and it helped him make better decisions in his rather major part of the division.
There’s a lot of press in the United States and increasingly around the world these days about what businesses want from new college graduates. It seems that the emphasis is no longer on the technical skills they learned during their college career but on the soft skills. “Soft skills” for our purposes means the ability to think critically and to communicate at the C-suite level. Doesn’t that sound like what’s needed in successful businesses?
What is the business of accountants? I believe that today it’s the accumulation, analysis, and projection of data into meaningful information for decision makers. The follow-on to that business is the critical piece: translating that information in such a way as to communicate effectively with those decision makers. Accountants may be the only people in the company who can see how an action in one part of the operation creates a reaction in another unrelated part of the operation and can therefore identify potential problems. As a result, they are perhaps able to suggest solutions in a more objective manner than those directly involved in one of those “silos.”
LEADERS ARE COMMUNICATORS
The technical accounting side of the job, then, is the springboard to helping direct activities to be more efficient, effective, secure, or whatever other objective is critical at the time. The real test is how well the problem and the solution (if there is, indeed, a solution in mind) are communicated to those who are best able to take any required action. That’s the accountant’s opportunity to develop leadership skills. Leaders are communicators. Communicators are leaders. Poor communicators aren’t long in leadership positions; good communicators aren’t long out of leadership positions.
The term “power” is often considered in a negative context, usually when someone has abused the power they have. Power, though, isn’t something a person just picks up at the mall to try on for size. Power is given to leaders by those around them. If we think about the people we admire, we often think of them as leaders—and just as often as powerful leaders. Those who are technically proficient and capable of communicating critical information in a timely manner and accurately will generally draw us to them because they are the go-to people in the group or company. They may not have the title, but they’re the ones who influence others to do what needs to be done. Think of parents, Mother Teresa, your favorite teacher or supervisor, your closest friend. Are they among your personal influencers? Influencers have the power to suggest you do something to improve the world (your mother’s perennial wish for you), or at least be the first member of your family to be President, and you set out to do just that. So now you’re either the President or in line to be president of your local IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) chapter, and you should thank your mother for exercising her powerful leadership to help you get there!
We regularly try to condense a concept to one key phrase or attribute. I don’t think we can do that with leadership and communication. Surely they are related terms, and they are essential for the successful accountant. But there is little utility in reducing these to one (maybe “leadercomm” or “communiship”?). Be the best technical accountant you can be. We never know who might be influenced by us, nor how that happens. That’s the ethics lesson—to always be aware of how your conduct or speech may be perceived by others. I’ve been fortunate to have contact with people I’ve worked with and with former students. The greatest satisfaction I experience is when someone is having an accounting problem at their work and they contact me to help them solve the problem. I have noticed that mentoring is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, and I view each of these opportunities as a chance to improve myself while helping others find solutions they need.
Communications are a critical part of any educational or vocational activity, and practice does lead to excellence, if not to perfection. It’s an amazing process that will always lead to that excellence level if we use it wisely. We as management accountants have opportunities every day to exercise that skill and make a difference. Aren’t we the lucky ones to be in such a critical position, with such critical information to share? IMA has wonderful educational courses to help you be the best communicator you can be. That means take every opportunity to communicate, whether it’s writing an article or presenting to an audience, and do it as often as you can because that’s how you improve. Learn to communicate by listening, and determine how you can best serve others as you become the go-to person in your organization. That’s my definition of success.
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.