Seven Habits of Lousy CPA Firm Leaders

Red 7 facing green 7Plus the flip side for successful leaders.

By Rex Gatto
Gatto Associates

Do you ever wonder how some people get promoted to a leadership position? Who did these people know to become a partner or director of tax in the firm?

MORE GATTO:  The New Leadership Skills You Need to Make Partner in Today's Accounting Firm   |    COMMENTS: Gatto Responds to “Ethics or Profits?”   |    How Leaders Lead in Tough Times

GoProCPA.comExclusively for PRO Members. Log in here or upgrade to PRO today.

Billions of dollars are spent on training present and future leaders: there are special events for partners at prestigious universities, full-day trainings for partners and managers. But how is that benefiting the employees in the workplace?

Partners get sent to warm places in the winter and cool places in the summer for CPA Association and or AICPA meetings. How is that advancing the workplace and helping employees grow and develop? Who holds leaders accountable for follow-up debriefs or action plans from managing partners/partner/manager retreats and or full-day trainings? Have you ever had partners or managers come back to your office from a workshop, a partner retreat or a training session and relate what they learned and how it will make the firm better for staff?

New supervisors want to start their careers and follow in the footsteps of the present leaders (partners). What kind or role models are in the workplace today? There are some great leaders but those lousy leaders seem to overshadow them.

With all the money spent on leadership training, one would think leaders would be brilliant, philosophical, kind-hearted, understanding, caring, competent, confident, people-oriented role models, and mentors who are compassionate. However, all too often we see lousy leaders who are self-oriented and greedy, who waste time in unproductive meetings, are unable to appropriately give feedback and are only fair presenters who do not inspire.

Many people in leadership positions think because they are knowledgeable they can lead. Here is the truth about lousy leaders.

The 7 Habits of Lousy Leaders (LLs) is based on my many years of interviews with Lousy Leaders. As you read the 7 habits, sit back and hear the leaders talking with you about how they lead.

Use the 7 Habits as a Scorecard and compare your boss against the Lousy Leader and then with the Successful Leader. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who is led by a Successful Leader!

Lousy Leaders – Habit 1: Do Not Listen

LLs do not have the time to listen to what employees have to say. When people stop by their offices, they continue working on the computer but tell employees they can hear what they are saying. They don’t even look up and make eye contact; they just keep working on what they’re doing, interrupt and respond occasionally so the employees think they care. They tell people that they’re really busy and have to get something done in the next hour. That makes people feel bad about asking questions so they leave not getting all their points clarified. The LLs can then blame the employees when mistakes are made. People will get the message that the LLs don’t care and so they stop bothering them.

Lousy Leaders – Habit 2: Do Not Ask for Input

Do not ask questions or solicit input. Lousy Leaders need to show they are proud leaders and can make decisions on their own. Getting input from followers and peers slows the process down. After all they are the boss, the leader, the commander of the ship, so what could anyone tell them that they do not already know? They tell people what they want to hear and then they decide a course of action. LLs show and tell people their opinions are the best and most informed (what others have to say is not important). They are and will continue to be decisive and let people know what they think and that is the way it is. They remind followers all the time that if they do not follow the leaders’ pontifications there is only one solution: they were looking for a job when they found this one.

 Lousy Leaders – Habit 3: Do Not Trust Anyone

Trust is for suckers and the lousy leader was not born yesterday. The only ones they can really trust are themselves and others who think just like them. Trust is an emotion that gets people into trouble every day! They believe they are smart leaders and know exactly on whom to depend. Trust is a feeling and the lousy leaders cannot tolerate the warm and fuzzies in the workplace; they have a job to do and work needs to get done. Enough with the emotions! They want the employees to get to work: what they trust is making a profit!

Lousy Leaders – Habit 4: Do Not Develop Future Leaders: They Will Be Your Competition!

Make sure to focus on the Lousy Leaders – Me, and only on Me (LLs motto). Do not put time into developing future leaders who could possibly take the job they have or want. The LLs remember that they did it all on their own and there were no free handouts. Let people do it the old-fashioned way on their own without any help. After all, if they are any good they will figure it out just like the LL did. Cream rises to the top – just like the LLs. They had to struggle and come up the old-fashioned way with hard work and long hours. Just because their boss may have left a few years ago and no one wanted the job has no bearing on what real leaders need to do.

Lousy Leaders – Habit 5: Do Not Encourage or Recognize Subordinates

When people are encouraged, they get motivated and do more. That means the LLs will need to do more to keep up with all the work they do because they are motivated. If LLs have a moderately performing group, they could blame them for a lot of the things that go wrong. A moderately performing team will meet the requirements that the CEO has laid out (stay under the radar). By not encouraging people, they will work hard to try and get approval from the LLs. Remember no one walks on water and the LLs do not want to give out too much praise and encouragement. If they encourage people to do more then “I” will need to step up and do more, duh. LLs already have put in long hard years and don’t need to do any more. After all, the other directors and partners don’t work any harder than they do and they leave early on Fridays, and get free parking: the LLs deserve just as much as other leaders (if not more).

Lousy Leaders – Habit 6: Tell People What To Do and By When

Employees are just an extension of the LLs. The LLs are the bosses and the ones who know the most. They and only they know how to do things the right way, the old-fashioned way without shortcuts. If they give people a voice, they will be in interactive discussions all day long and who has time for that? Basically, employees are lazy and really do not care about the work: they just come to work for a paycheck. The LLs know the way things need to be done and no one needs to tell them anything about getting the work done. Their secretaries print their emails every day and then the LLs dictate responses to customers and employees. Their secretaries type all the responses and that is quick, efficient and easy. The secretaries know how to use social media like tweets and LinkedIn so they read them, respond so the LLs feel connected with those X and Y Generation people. With all that knowledge out there, people need to just do what the LL says to get the work out.

Lousy Leaders – Habit 7: Feedback, Why Use It?

Feedback is a waste of time. The only good thing about feedback is being able to tell employees all the things they are doing wrong. The point of feedback is only to justify giving a 3 percent raise each year to lazy employees who talk too much at lunch. What good does a performance appraisal do? Each year, all the partners get together and decide how much money to give out. Then they argue about who has the best or worst people and how to allocate money. Feedback is then fixed so bits and pieces of money can be paid out, but just enough so the employees don’t leave. Yeah, they mope around for about a month, but then things get back to normal. LLs do what they need to do. Employees don’t get too upset because the LLs put out stories about competitors who are worse off than they are. This helps to keep employees in line.

AND ONE MORE THING: Going to meetings all day

Lousy leaders have back-to-back meetings all day. That keeps them busy and involved with everyone. They go to meetings to tell people what to do, ask questions that no one can really answer, and let others know how to do their jobs. LLs only have to give opinions and really don’t have time for much more. Meetings are the greatest alternative for working and LLs are happy just attending meetings all day long. When the BIG bosses ask what they do, the LLs tell them they are in meetings all day long trying to keep the company going and don’t have time for any new projects! Come in early and start each day with meetings and end the day with a meeting. This also keeps the LLs too busy to meet with employees who want to drop in and discuss things. They have no time to discuss anything with anyone outside of the meetings they attend. Time is money and they need to be in meetings.


Let’s look at what successful Leaders do.

There you have seven tried and true methods to be a lousy leader. What you now have is a way to make yourself into a lousy-leader role-model leader. Leadership is all about employees doing what you tell them and making sure they keep their mouths shut.

With all of the leadership training and the billions of dollars that goes into that training, why do we still have people in leadership positions who exhibit the seven bad habits? In contrast, what are the seven habits of successful leaders who truly are role models and have changed the course of the workplace?

Successful Leaders – Habit 1: Listening

Great leaders listen to connect with others. They listen with their eyes and ears. The leaders listen to what is and is not said and guide the discussion in ways that promote productive and learning. They listen to motivate direct reports. Listening effectively motivates direct reports because the direct report knows they are being listened to and that their ideas, when possible, will be implemented.

Successful Leaders – Habit 2: Asking for Input

Asking employees relates to employee engagement. The more involved employees are in a project or the work, the more they want to see it succeed. Asking for input, effectively listening to the input and, if appropriate, implementing the ideas from the input motivates employees. A leader asks and listens, involving employees in solutions, creative thinking and day-to-day work. Asking for input also gives the leader great insight into the level of thinking of the employees or peers with whom they are working. Listening to input is one of the best ways leaders learn how to appropriately lead. Input from employees also will give leaders an idea of the level of employees’ knowledge, confidence and passion: major characteristics in employee maturity and development.

Successful Leaders – Habit 3: Building Trust

Trust is the glue that holds organizations together. Trust is based on a history of two or more people working together and communicating thoughts and feelings, and taking or not taking action. Often in workshops, I ask participants if they trust me (people I have never met). Most people are polite and say yes. Then they ask me if I trust them, and I say NO… we have no history together. Another major point is that I have people ask if I distrust them. Again, I say NO. The opposite of trust is not mistrust. I have no mistrust with the person – we have no history. Trust = doing what you say. Trust = showing that you are capable and the Successful Leader has trust you can do the job. Leadership must be built on mutual trust.

Successful Leaders – Habit 4: Coaching New Leaders

Having an experienced person demonstrating, explaining or encouraging the less experienced person on how to do something as a leader is what coaching is. Coaching opens lines of communication, supports the sharing between generations, lessens aloofness or distancing by the leader, and creates an interpersonal relationship. Coaching also is a sharing of history along with the experiences of the coach. Organizational and industry-related history is important to understanding the present, how the organization got where it is and possibly where it is going to go.

To have either internal or external coaching also lets the followers (new leaders) know that they are supported and the Successful Leaders care about those employees’ careers and want them to succeed.

Successful Leaders – Habit 5: Giving Recognition

The loudest communication in your organization is the last person promoted into a leadership position. That promotion/recognition lets everyone know this is what is rewarded, shows how employees are expected to act and is recognition for everyone to see. What is recognized, people will do. If you recognize and reward employees for being people-oriented and knowledgeable, employees will start to move in that direction. If the person you promoted is knowledgeable but not a very good role model then people may start to act in that manner. Recognition is a motivator! Recognition has a more lasting effect than money. A raise or bonus is shorter-lived than recognition in front of the team or department. I had a leader once tell me he did not want to recognize anyone in particular because he was afraid of disenfranchising others on his team. Think about that, afraid to recognize success! Everyone is not a star. Recognition is an important part of the workplace and leaders need to have the courage to recognize people for their contributions.

Successful Leaders – Habit 6: Participatory Leadership

Teamwork is an essential aspect of success in the workplace. The old phrase “Two heads are better than one” has proven to have merit. Participatory leadership is an approach to building a team. Participators are leaders who involve followers, and have open dialogues with followers about issues, concerns, direction and what actions to take. Participators involve followers in the decision-making process and coach and encourage input. There are many ways for participatory leaders to involve followers and support and help followers learn, grow and develop.

Successful Leaders – Habit 7: Giving Feedback

Feedback is the best way to develop as a leader and develop followers. While giving feedback, a great deal can be learned about one’s own ability to observe, understand others and interpret and evaluate the actions of others. A way to look at feedback is that it is a way to feed the future (feed-forward). Imagine if I said to you that I want to give you some feed-forward information. That would force you to think about applying action for the future. Often when leaders say they are going to give employees feedback, the employees think about the past (usually something they did wrong!). The purpose of feedback is so something can be done about the future: a change in behavior, continuation of skills or a new way of doing something. The key to giving feed-forward information is to support success and what the employee is doing right.

Well there you have it: a transformation from lousy leader to successful leader.

Did you keep your scorecard about your workplace leaders? How did your leaders rate? The next time you have the opportunity to observe leaders, rate them and see where they score: lousy or successful leader. Then, you have a decision to make.

Leave a Reply