I became controller of BMI Elite in October 2012. I knew what my job responsibilities were and what the job would entail, but I had no idea the impact that leadership would play in my role. To be honest, I don’t think I was much of a leader during the first two years of my position. I was so engulfed in learning the intricacies of the position that I had no time to really think about how I was performing as a leader of the accounting team. It wasn’t until I began to see turnover in one specific position that I had to reevaluate how I managed and led the team. I started focusing on proper training and understanding the importance of communication.
Being a leader of a team or supervising a department is a very demanding task. Pressures come from all different angles. We have pressure to meet our goals as well as the pressure to ensure that our team gets its work done efficiently and effectively, too. It became even more challenging in my case when the CFO at BMI Elite resigned and I had to step up and take over his duties. I knew I could no longer just oversee the accounting department. In order to fill that void, I had to get actively involved with the upper-level aspects of the accounting functions.
I knew I had to educate myself on what a CFO’s job responsibilities are. Communication with the owners was also key. What did they now expect of me and of the department? Once all of those questions were answered, I asked myself if I was up to the challenge. I’ve always been a hardworking, dedicated employee, but I knew this was going to be different. It would demand more time and effort. But I’m not one to run away from a challenge or cower in fear of failing, so I internally accepted the challenge. I knew I wanted the opportunity to lead the department and make a positive impact.
Education and networking became the next major steps. I immediately joined IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants). BMI Elite sponsored my membership, and once I joined I had access to several webinars, on-the-job Q&A discussions, and a subscription to Strategic Finance. All of these benefits have played a hand in my continued success. Last, I found some great online courses that have been beneficial in this new role: financial planning & analysis, building a budget, and a CFO Leadership Program.
When the CFO left, I also started thinking about my previous supervisors—what I liked and disliked about their leadership styles and what characteristics I would have to embody to successfully lead my team. I came away with five qualities that helped me to lead my team under pressure and propel me to my current position as vice president of finance.
- Have the tough conversations: Being a leader means having to make difficult decisions. Those tough decisions usually come in the form of termination or discipline. With the proper documentation and communication (i.e., performance reviews, write-ups, and meetings) in place, the termination or write-up can go smoothly. If an employee has already been made aware of any violations or underperformance, then it becomes less difficult to terminate or write the employee up because you have a history of giving them opportunities to improve. And if they succeed in improving, then it becomes a very fulfilling feeling to know you have helped an employee avoid a preventable termination.
- Check in: Between meetings and month-end deadlines, it’s tough to know everything that’s going on within your department. But as a leader, you need to meet with your team to be informed of what they’re working on and to update them on what’s going on with the company or their department and with any new ideas or projects. This allows all team members to remain engaged and feel like they’re a part of something bigger than just their job duties. I schedule separate morning meetings each week with the A/R and A/P teams, and then we meet collectively each month for a lunch meeting.
- Delegate: When there’s restructuring in your department, it’s crucial to organize and reevaluate everyone’s job duties. This allows you to determine if they can take on more tasks. Removing items from your to-do list allows you more time to focus on other important matters. Effectively managing your time is key to success.
- Be honest and direct: Unfortunately, no one is born with the ability to read minds; therefore, you can’t lead with ambiguity. Set your expectations from the beginning. Nothing is worse than giving a directive, expecting it to be done one way, and seeing that the person has done the complete opposite. When you need a task completed, make sure you are clear and concise with the guidelines of the assignment. An employee should never leave your office “guessing” about what to do or when something is due.
- Always remember that it’s business, not personal: You must lead objectively. This allows you to become detached emotionally when making the tough decisions. If you understand from the beginning that it’s business, not personal, then you’re better suited to successfully handle any and all issues that may arise. You’re able to make decisions based on facts and not emotions. Most of the time, it’s our feelings that get in the way of conducting business. It can be difficult when you’re having a bad day or your employee makes an error that you’ve repeatedly told them not to make, but when you do find yourself getting emotional, just stop and step away. Take a moment to breathe, reflect, and start over. Calmly explain the issue. Learning to remove yourself from those emotions allows you to lead a team to its full capacity—and you’re able to grow as a leader.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/programs_events/ima_leadership_academy.