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Make your mark

Alan Hatfield tells you exactly what you need to know to improve your leadership skills

April 2018

Leadership means different things to different people. For some, it’s about being good at your job and being well liked. For others, it’s all about being in charge.
Being a great leader should be an aspiration of any finance professional. Whether you are the managing director or a shift leader, the way you lead has a huge impact on everyone you work with. Leaders have the power to change the organisations around them. They make a difference to the business, rather than just making the business work. Leadership is about what you do and attaining skills that can be applied to the tasks that occur in every business.
As professionals increase their knowledge of the profession, so do the opportunities for leadership roles in the workplace. ACCA support its students in this area. As part of the ACCA qualification re-design there’s a new Strategic Business Leader exam, which is designed to mirror the workplace and presents students with real-world challenges.

Practical tasks:
The exam will require candidates to take on various roles within the main organisation, or in connected organisations such as consultancy practices, audit or regulatory authorities, or other connected stakeholders. Tasks set will be practical, requiring students to apply any models, theories or techniques they deem appropriate to complete the task. The assessment is marked on how the task is completed and whether the objectives of the task have been achieved, allowing students to apply the right technical, ethical and professional skills to tasks that would be expected in the workplace.
The syllabus brings together core areas from governance, risk and strategy, links to other leadership areas such as organisational control, innovation and change management – and uses new technologies and data analytics.
Ethics remain crucial. ACCA pioneered ethics when it introduced the Professional Ethics Module back in 2007, and it remains a core element of the ACCA qualification today, with an updated module re-launched in October 2017.
Every exceptional leader has developed and honed their leadership skills, continuously learning and developing over time to shape their leadership success.
By 2020, all professional accountants will need to develop and balance the necessary professional quotients to fit their role and stage of career. The seven qualities that have been identified in ACCA’s professional accountant – the future research are the key drivers shaping the profession over the next decade and beyond:
• Technical and ethical competencies (TEQ): the skills and abilities to perform activities consistently to a defined standard while maintaining the highest standards of integrity, independence and scepticism.
• Intelligence (IQ): the ability to acquire and use knowledge: thinking, reasoning and solving problems.
• Creativity (CQ): the ability to use existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas.
• Digital quotient (DQ): the awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices, strategies and culture.
• Emotional intelligence (EQ): the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them.
• Vision (VQ): the ability to anticipate future trends accurately by extrapolating existing trends and facts, and filling the gaps by thinking innovatively.
• Experience (XQ): the ability and skills to understand customer expectations meet desired outcomes and create value.
Individually they are not new to the profession, but together these skills represent how finance professionals can proactively manage the future, enhance their preparedness for the unknown and help them to succeed.
The seven skills aren’t meant as a checklist but a guide. They can help professionals recognise where they may excel and where they need to improve through continuous professional development, all of which professional accountants already know to do so well.
Tomorrow’s leaders need to be aware of increased regulation and stronger governance, which is expected to have the greatest impact on the profession over the longer term. All members of the profession will be affected directly or indirectly and to varying degrees, and regional variations will also influence regulation and governance.
Digital technologies are also a major driver for change as they will transform the role and the competencies that accountants require. Smart software systems will eventually replace manual work (like bookkeeping) as well as automating more complex and multifaceted processes such as the financial close.

Variety of skills:
All professional accountants will be expected to look beyond the numbers, and to possess a variety of skills. They will need to meet more frequent requests for holistic and forward-looking information, and may also face demand for more frequent ad-hoc reporting from stakeholders as the barriers are eroded between financial and non-financial performance.
And, finally, continuing globalisation is leading to an increased rate of change and economic volatility. Professional accountants will need the interpersonal skills to work as part of a diverse team. Finance professionals will be working with team members around the world and from younger generations who have different aspirations and expectations from previous generations.
Finance leaders will always be needed in future to maximize productivity, shape a positive culture and ensure organisations succeed. After all, finance is the language of business. Some people are natural born leaders, and most can develop leadership skills with a combination of practice, mentorship, self-belief and a world-class professional accountancy qualification behind them.
• Alan Hatfield, ACCA executive director – strategy and development

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