It Takes More Than a Little Luck o’ the Irish to Develop Good Leadership Skills

The Irish are a charismatic lot — and perhaps because of that, people whose forebears emigrated from the Emerald Isle number heavily among the ranks of our political leaders. Given St. Patrick’s Day is today, what might leaders of accounting organizations learn about good leadership skills from the Irish?

The analytically oriented people who gravitate to the accounting profession often occupy the introverted end of the Myers-Briggs personality scale — a widely used psychometric scale that measures people’s preferences and gauges how they make decisions. Yet, good leadership skills usually require a balance of both analytic smarts and what many term “soft” management skills: effective communication, a knack for motivating people and, especially, a gift for inspiring action and change.

Indeed, plenty of leaders have been reticent people who found themselves thrust into this new, unfamiliar role quite by accident — and blossomed once there. Just to cite two examples, President Barack Obama and his 2012 opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, are two leaders noted for being naturally reticent.

An old Irish saying begins, “May the wind always be at your back.” And developing good leadership skills will do that for you. Concentrate on the following:

  • Avoid the blarney. People aren’t easily fooled, especially in today’s business environment. In the accounting world, rules and practices change rapidly, and successful leadership requires you to stay ahead of the pack professionally. Some of this is perception: Nobody wants to follow someone who lacks sufficient professional smarts. Good leadership skills mean knowing how to walk the talk.

  • Remember, the kindness you spread keeps returning to you. Treat your staff well when it’s time to burn the proverbial midnight oil. That’s something accounting firms are noted for, especially during tax season. Your largesse won’t go unrewarded: Your people will be more apt to stay on with you. And don’t stop there — plan outings and celebrations after a work rush is over.

  • Forge their path. Develop a clear idea of what you want to achieve and the steps individuals can take to accomplish those goals. Good leadership skills often mean, as one Irish proverb states, having “the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”

  • Hone the gift of gab. The best leaders work hard to develop what seems to come naturally to the Irish: Telling a great story. Accountants, in particular, are often associated with reserve — but there are plenty of seminars, courses and one-to-one coaching to help you become better at speaking to large groups. Plus, you can get to know your peers from other firms by taking them out for drinks — and find out what works well for them. One great forum for cross-industry gabfests is the Leading Edge Alliance (LEA). In smaller groups, having a sense of humor can help you make connections.

  • Educate thyself. Good leadership skills entail constant learning and relearning. That’s necessary not only to maintain one’s own certification, but to be better aware of what your team must grapple with every day. Never stop learning — and never assume that you know everything.

  • Don’t forget, earthly things are temporary. By all means, enjoy your success but retain your humility. As the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Man can climb the highest summits, but he cannot dwell there long.”

So, are great leaders born — or can leadership be learned over time? Spin us a yarn or two in the comments section below.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Cygnus921