insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Spring 2024

The Recipe for a Great Accounting Firm Partner

Incorporating success skills trainings into your firm (in addition to technical skills trainings) will only cook up stronger future leaders and partners.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

What makes a great leader or partner at your firm? Is it being a technical wizard who knows all? You know who I’m talking about: The person who can answer even the toughest of tax or assurance inquiries from memory. Is it being the leader who attends every advanced training out there and may also have several additional designations after their name to prove their knowledge and expertise?

There’s no doubt that a successful firm (and the accounting profession) needs people like this—but is there more to being a successful leader?

Perhaps a successful leader is someone who has a good handle on technical matters but is also good at developing staff, leading their department, obtaining new business, and communicating effectively with clients and their teams. These are the leaders who represent their firms in the community, mentor staff, and lead important firm initiatives in addition to being on solid ground technically.

We all recognize that today’s successful firms need people in leadership positions that have many of these qualities and more. The dynamic nature of business and the profession today requires it. Unfortunately, the reality is that most firms only focus on technical training. Further, this skill set is reinforced at review and promotion time when the partners remind staff of the technical competencies needed to advance to the next level.

But if we agree that we need leaders that can bring a breadth of qualities to the table in order to drive success at our firms, it’s time to fortify our training curriculums to develop both technical and success skills. (Success skills used to be called soft skills, but I’m aiming to change that paradigm.)

Well-rounded leaders can be built and enhanced with success skills training just like technical wizards can be built and enhanced with technical training. But before we start throwing spaghetti at the wall on success skills training topics, let’s first take a strategic tack.

Consider what skills you want to nurture at each level within the firm and build your success skills curriculum from there. Here’s a list of some examples:


  • Communicating effectively with clients and co-workers.
  • Fortifying listening skills.


  • Understanding the business of public accounting.
  • Being an effective team member.
  • Time management and balancing competing priorities.


  • Delegation.
  • Personal wellness strategies.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Understanding and leveraging strengths.
  • Building client relationships.

Managers/Senior Managers

  • Building and leading a strong team.
  • Recognizing cross-serving opportunities.
  • Business development.
  • Understanding their personal path to partner/leadership.
  • Personal brand development.

Now that we have a list of competencies that we’d like to develop at each level of the firm, we can start by addressing them through training, skill building, coaching, and mentoring.

To start, consider a leader at your firm who already excels at one or more of these skills—can they lead a discussion or training session? Or maybe you could host a mini-panel of leaders who can share differing perspectives on a topic. Another idea is to organize an internal book group and read a book on a topic related to a competency and discuss it. Further, watch a TED Talks video on a topic of interest and discuss it as a group. The bottom line here is that it doesn’t need to be a grandiose production if you don’t have the appetite or budget to go all in on success skills training.

Another approach is to seek external training courses that address the development topics needed most. While it would be great if the training was geared toward success in public accounting, it’s not a requirement. A simple search may yield many live or virtual options in the areas of leadership, team building, time management, and other related topics. Of course, you could send one or two people to the programs and have them provide feedback on them before making a larger commitment.

Lastly, you could bring success skills training directly to your firm by hiring an external trainer to deliver the content. This approach often allows you to customize the content, messaging, and cadence. Further, an external trainer may have a vested interest in ensuring a successful outcome and may be able to provide some ideas on reinforcing the content and messaging going forward. For instance, the Illinois CPA Society offers programs like its Strategy Academy and Tailored Team Training.

Creating a framework for incorporating success skills training into your firm doesn’t have to be big, sophisticated, or expensive to be effective. But I hope you agree that cultivating these kinds of skills in your people (in addition to technical skills) will build a firm of stronger future leaders and partners—and that’s a recipe for success!

As you explore this concept, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to discuss your journey. There’s nothing I’m more passionate about than helping develop amazing future leaders in our profession.

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