What Does Leadership Have to do With Bookkeeping?
Nothing … if all you want to do is to be a self-employed bookkeeper and have a great lifestyle. But, if your future includes running an outsourced bookkeeping services business (or any business for that matter) and hiring other employees, leadership is everything. Or, as author and leadership expert John Maxwell puts it, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” and the quality of your organization is determined by the number of great leaders you have.
Leadership is the science and art of influencing a group of talented people to go on an exciting journey with you. Our vision at Legacy Advantage is to become a global bookkeeping services brand. That is the journey, and we’re not only inviting our team to join it, but we’re also inviting them to lead it.
To do this, we need to build leaders, and building leaders requires that we have an inspiring vision and that we be dedicated to training and encouraging leadership every day. Let’s break these three steps down.
Step 1: Inspire Vision, Inspire Leaders
Leaders have a vision. You don’t get one without the other. Of course, we have a strong corporate vision: to be global leaders in outsourced bookkeeping. But, I encourage our associates to come up with their own version of that. Why? Because it’s important they make it their own. When they do this, it shows that they not only understand and buy into our vision, but that they also have internalized it. This compels them to take responsibility and ownership of their work – two solid hallmarks of leadership.
How does this help us? Well, many bookkeeping firms struggle to keep employees for more than a year, and some have turnover rates as high as 100 percent annually! Our bookkeeping firm has a voluntary turnover rate of less than 10 percent per year, and we’re convinced it’s because our associates feel they are part of our journey and that their role has purpose. When they do bookkeeping, it’s not just mindless data entry; they are also contributing to our common goal of building a global brand. And, since our associates are engaged, we, in turn, are more willing to invest in their growth, which further improves retention – a virtuous cycle.
Step 2: Identify Leaders and Train Them
Too many times, I’ve seen people promoted or given the opportunity to lead because of their technical ability. This is a huge mistake. Just because they are technically strong doesn’t mean they will be able to relate to others, and leaders need to be able to relate to people. So, let’s say one of your employees has a strong sense of vision, responsibility and ownership. Is that all it takes? No. Leaders must be great communicators, must love people and must believe in the untapped potential of others.
Here’s the basic equation: Vision + Responsibility + Ownership + Communication + Relatable = Leadership Potential
Once you’ve identified your potential leaders comes the even more difficult task of training them. Our approach at Legacy Advantage is the Mastermind model. Napoleon Hill, author of “The Law of Success” and “Think and Grow Rich,” describes the Mastermind principle as, “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”
Our Mastermind consists of people gathered specifically to develop leadership. Each person is given the same leadership book, and once a month we get together to share what we’ve learned. My role as the facilitator is to ask questions, challenge people, and help my associates identify where they are and where they might be stuck. After the session, each person is given action steps to grow their leadership skills, and at the next meeting we discuss how these went.
Now, you might be thinking that this would only be worthwhile for your managers, but you’re wrong. If you spot potential in junior level staff, bring them in, too. After all, John Maxwell defines leadership as influence, nothing more and nothing less. We have a junior associate who is incredibly talented and capable of solving extremely difficult bookkeeping problems. She has the right attitude and aptitude and, as a result, has tremendous influence with me – her boss! I listen to her every word and every recommendation. You could say that, in many cases, she leads me.
Step 3: Develop Leadership Daily, Not in a Day
Patience. This is the last step, and probably the most difficult. Developing leadership takes time. It requires trial and error. Train your leaders, guide them and mentor them. Help them become the best version of themselves. It can be painful. They may fail you. They may make old mistakes. Worst of all, they may leave you and become leaders elsewhere.
But, it’s worth it.
One of our senior managers required a lot of handholding. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, and he wasn’t sure Legacy Advantage was the right place for him. Since participating in our leadership Masterminds, he’s developed a clear vision of who he wants to become, and thankfully, his role at Legacy aligns with that vision. He’s taken greater ownership of the office and shown far more initiative. Yes, it took time, but now that he’s able to make decisions without me, my time is freed up to focus on other things.
Leading is tough. It’s exhausting, lonely and takes a tremendous amount of time. But, your team’s competence and independence will rise. More importantly, you’re adding value to another human being. That alone is reward enough. It’s a little bit like raising kids – despite all the challenges and hardships, those amazing moments of breakthrough make the entire process worthwhile.
If you are interested in discussing more about leadership development in the accounting/bookkeeping context, feel free to reach out to me here.