As you grow your firm’s team you’re going to discover that being an accounting wizard does not translate into being a top tier leader. They’re two entirely different skillsets. The weaker your leadership skills, the more you’re going to have to make up for the lackluster performance turned in by your team. That defeats the whole purpose of bringing in new people in the first place.
Happily, leadership qualities can be grown, just like your accounting skillset. Here are some leadership tips to keep in mind as you bring new people in under you.
Personalize your team members
It’s completely demoralizing for employees to realize they’re unrecognisable cogs in a firm’s number-crunching machine. Everybody wants to be recognised both for their contributions and as individuals.
Of course, if you end up as the Big Boss for hundreds of employees then knowing all of their ins-and-outs is going to become a little tricky. But one of the reasons people choose to join smaller firms is the notion that they will be recognised and seen as people rather than as just human calculators.
So get to know your people. Whether you do this in small one-on-one meetings, by mingling with the troops for a couple of minutes each day, by hosting a lunch once a week or a wine-tasting on Friday before you close up shop, find a way to get to know their personal ambitions, likes, senses of humour, if they have families, and so on.
If you’re on the quiet end of the spectrum and not all that great with social scenes, make the moment about something other than socialising. Quick meetings that are completely work-related are the most obvious way to go about this. But this could also include cooking or karate lessons, a game or sport, charity work, anything where the socialising is a side-effect instead of the focus.
Knowing the individuals of your team gives you a chance to build loyalty in and of itself, but also through the knowledge that when you hand out gifts, perks, or bonuses you can individualise them. An employee who is a huge fan of a local sports team is going to be thrilled to get tickets from you. But another employee who can’t stand sports is going to love that you got him or her tickets to a beer-crafting fair.
This kind of individualised attention is what is going to help keep those employees in your firm when other higher-paying firms come looking to poach your talent.
Let employees make decisions
This one can be a little scary, but you should consider letting some employees make decisions that will affect the future of the firm. Every employee is going to recognise that when you, the Big Boss, leave a big decision in their hands, you’re trusting them with the future health of the firm. This investment in them will result in a big emotional investment in the firm on the part of that employee. They’ll no longer just be a worker, they’ll be a part of your firm, dedicated to its overall growth.
Invest in employees’ futures
We mentioned above that you should get to know your employees’ hopes and dreams for their future careers. If you really want to get and keep them on your side, help them achieve those goals.
You can do this by paying for them to attend seminars, classes, purchase books, or what have you that it might take them much longer to afford on their own. Not only do they feel like you care about their future, as an added bonus you get a loyal employee who is now able to handle a more specialised workload. You may even end up being able to add more services to your menu because the employee learned a new skillset that you yourself do not have.
Keep teams as small as possible
Have you heard of Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon) “Two-Pizza Rule”? He tries to avoid groups or meetings too big to be fed by two pizzas. This helps avoid two pitfalls:
- Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) – people further down the firm’s food-chain will outwardly agree with you, even if they have differing opinions.
- Groupthink – the pressure to stick with the crowd for fear of being ostracised or disliked because you’re seen to be holding things up.
These two problems defeat the whole point of having open meetings – to test out an idea with your team before you roll it out live. A good leader is going to want to have new ideas subjected to criticisms and improvements before it’s seen by the clientele. So keep your meetings and groups as small as possible in order to get the most value from them.
Pick leaders to lead
If your firm grows to the size where you need someone to act as a manager make sure you pick someone not just for their ability to get the work done, but also because they have leadership skills. What we mentioned in the intro – that having great accounting skills does not translate into having great leadership skills – goes not only for you but for people you’re looking to put into management positions.
Build groups based not only on strengths, but also on weaknesses
If you have a special project coming up, perhaps something you’ve pitched to an A-list client, you’re naturally going to want the employees with the greatest strength related to the project in that group. However, by only appointing the people who have this stuff down cold you may be missing an opportunity to strengthen your firm as a whole.
You should consider adding a member or two who are weak in this area. The idea of course is that they gain experience and know-how while working with your specialists. And don’t just have them peering over the shoulders of the experienced members – have them do some actual work. This makes sure they stay focused and motivated to learn how to handle the tasks at hand.
They’ll be appreciative that you both gave them a chance to work on a big project and that you gave them the chance to learn something which will help boost their future careers. And you of course have just gained another employee who can be trusted to handle similar future projects.