insight magazine

5 Ways to Keep Building Your Leadership Skills

Wherever you are in your career, leadership is a skill that takes continual learning. By John M. Becerril | Digital Exclusive - 2017


I can’t even begin to count the number of books and seminars there are about being a good leader. What runs through them all, however, is this: Leaders at a minimum need to be ethical, have integrity and be experts in the softer side of skills. Nowhere is this truer than in the accounting profession.

Leadership, at its core, is about influence. It’s the ability to positively impact those around us to achieve the best possible outcomes. Obviously, then, you have to be able to relate to other people and understand what motivates them—hence the stress on ethics, integrity and soft skills. 

The good news is this: You started your leadership training before you could walk or talk. Empirical evidence shows that learning to “play in the sandbox” begins early in life and then progresses based on our experiences and development into adulthood. Step one is done. It’s up to you, however, to continue to build these skills progressively as you grow in your career.

Here’s how.

1. Check your ego at the door

It doesn’t matter how seasoned you think you are, you need to manage your ego and continue to strengthen your role as a key business partner—even if you hold the highest position in your organization.

2. Keep your perspective; stay hungry

For seasoned professionals like me, my best advice is to think like it’s still your first year out of college and reflect on where and how you can continue to learn and better yourself.

3. Seek objective, constructive criticism

Developing your leadership skill is all about knowing who you are. Many organizations and executive coaches use 360-feedback programs to get a complete, objective view of your management style. However, by the time you get to participate in a program like this you may have already formulated certain behaviors that should have been checked a long time ago—think micromanagement, delegation phobia, procrastination, etc. To be a proficient leader you need to understand the best and worst of yourself and follow up with action plans.

4. Make an action plan

I urge young and seasoned professionals alike to start with the very basics—list the areas you think are most in need of improvement and ask for feedback from partners, higher-ups and peers to ensure you’re working on the right things. Focus not only on technical skills, but, most importantly, soft skills—do you get along with the people in your organization or on your team? Do people listen when you speak and, conversely, are you an active listener? Are you taken seriously? More seasoned professionals might ask questions geared to their level in the organization and one level up. For instance, “Am I considered a trusted partner?” “How am I perceived when there’s contention or uncertainty?” “Am I an effective motivator and do people have faith in me?”These are very simple questions that offer a wealth of interesting insights.

5. Put your plan into action

That could mean any number of things, from taking seminars to watching TED Talks, to attending networking events or kicking off your own for peers or direct reports…whatever the actions are, keep working on them for as long as it takes and ask for feedback along the way. Measurable results are key to seeing just how well you’re honing your skills.

It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization—individual contributor, manager, director, partner, VP or CEO—all levels should actively, continuously and consistently learn about better leadership. This needs to be front-of-mind throughout your career. Be honest, be objective and don’t ever let your ego get in the way. 

John M. Becerril is the global director, Accounting and External Financial Reporting, for Cabot Microelectronics Corporation and an Illinois CPA Society member.