What Kind of Leader Do You Think You Are?

Hint: You're probably wrong.

A new study of CPA firm personnel finds "a significant disconnect" between the way leaders view themselves and the way their subordinates see them.

According to Regent University's Jamie Early and John B. Davenport, leadership behaviors generally fall into these three categories:

  1. Transformational, which focuses on rallying followers around a shared vision and motivating them to elevate the organization's interests above their own,
  2. Transactional, which rewards or disciplines followers based on their performance, and
  3. Servant, which is based on a desire to serve and encourages "collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power."

Around two-thirds of  CPAs at accounting firms describe their leadership style as either transformational or servant. Yet 62 percent of accountants describe their immediate supervisor's leadership style as transactional.

"This is noteworthy because a clear majority of respondents said they would be most responsive to a transformational leadership style," the authors say in the March 2010 NYSSCPA magazine.

"To be effective, leaders need to break away from a transactional mindset and adopt transformational and servant behaviors," they say. "This is particularly important for managers as they make the transition to partner" -- and from a transactional technique to transformational.

The authors emphasize that leadership "is not a single static style but rather a dynamic process." Effective leaders expertly employ a combination of transformational, transactional, and servant behaviors tailored to particular situations or people.

But the disconnect between supervisors and their staff is striking... Almost as striking as most CPAs' desire for "transformational" leadership.

5 Responses to “What Kind of Leader Do You Think You Are?”

  1. Jeri Quinn

    Many of our baby boomer CPA’s manage and lead the same way that was modeled for them when they were coming up through the ranks. I’ve worked with CPA’s who figured it was the staff’s job to follow them and they didn’t have to give much attention to proactively leading. They didn’t have to praise or thank or give meaningful direction or care about the welfare of individual staff members. They didn’t have to enlist the staff in the firm’s vision or help them understand how their efforts mattered in the achievement of the vision. The firm’s culture lacked motivation, initiative and accountability. The concept of emotional intelligence is often disregarded by people who perceive that they make their living by managing numbers. The key word, of course, is perceive. Emotional intelligence also is only a couple of decades old, well after the training period that many managing partners underwent as new partners, if they indeed had any training at all. Yet emotional intelligence, addressing people’s needs as human emotive beings, is much of what separates transactional and transformational or servant leadership styles. There’s also an ego component which makes servant leadership difficult for CPA’s. Yet if we want to keep women in the profession and we want to attract Gen Y millennials (in the workforce since 2000)into the CPA profession, this transformational and servant leadership is necessary. Those firms who take the time to develop their peoples’ ‘soft skills’ will have the sustaining advantage. Thanks for putting this information out there.

  2. Nick Pawliwec

    I think this was a pretty good read. Many folks aspire to certain standards of behavior but have not learned the mgmt skills to meet those expectations.

  3. Millian Toms CPA

    I am not surprised that employee’s see it as “transactional” leadership, mostly because the initial work they do is transactional. Until they have experience behind them and move themselves into more tranformational/servant responsibility on client work, I am not sure it would change. They have to show the skill’s to be evaluated on them.

  4. Tom Hood

    Rick, the lack of leadership or ‘bench strength’ may be the biggest problem we face in our profession’s history. It should be no surprise that CPAs would rank highest on the ‘transactional’ style, isn’t that where we all come from?

    We get great at our technical skills and soon we are promoted to be in charge of people, a practice area, a team where our individual skill is not as important as leading others.

    Our work with the AICPA Leadership Academy and our New Young Professionals Network indicate that these young leaders are hungry for tools and training to help them become strong and effective leaders. However, they say that there is an unwillingness by many to invest in these ‘soft skills’. Recent research shows that the return on Leadership and a Culture are the highest ROIs you can get per dollar invested (10 to 1 & 20 to 1 respectively).

    This data should serve as a wakeup call. Our old ways of OJT training and the school of hard knocks will not cut it in today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing environment. It is time to bet serious about leadership development!

  5. [...] Michelle Golden: As a fly on the wall, I'd agree: "What Kind of Leader Are You?" http://bit.ly/9follG [...]

    […] Michelle Golden: As a fly on the wall, I’d agree: “What Kind of Leader Are You?” http://bit.ly/9follG […]