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Empathy leads to more trust, greater bonds between team members, and more creative problem solving.

“What drives success in the first 10 years of your career, will not drive it for the next ten.” This is what Anil Singhal, co-founder, NetScout Systems, told the Wall Street Journal in a recent article on “The Secret to Midcareer Success.”1 It echoes similar sentiments by Marshall Goldsmith, author, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful” and Mark Morgan, CFO, PTS Diagnostics, IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) member, in a thought piece for Strategic Finance. The concensus from these thought leaders is “getting ahead means thinking less about yourself and more about other people.” So if you are lost on the accounting career path, the best thing to do might be to stop and ask someone who has been down the path for directions.

This shift in thinking may be intuitive for some, but focusing on others requires skills that are different from passing exams or earning promotions. Those skills are about individual achievement. Leadership is about collective achievement, namely motivating and supporting others’ success which in turn benefits the greater good of the organization.

IMA has discussed the challenges of cultivating the soft skills needed to lead (especially when most accountants and finance professionals’ academic preparation and early career advancement focused on mastery of technical competencies). But IMA’s research has shown many benefits to creating enlightened leaders. For example as Rod Koch, CMA, has written in Strategic Finance, when managers are “empathetic,” they can actually solve problems better. Empathy leads to more trust, greater bonds between team members, and more creative problem solving.

Soft skills are more difficult to quantify than others, so they are often relegated to the realm of self-learning. This can be a mistake for organizations. A great disconnect can exist between perception and reality when people assess their own level of soft skills or their ability to act in an emotionally intelligent way. IMA has made the process of assessment in this area easier with its Competency Framework (Note: The framework is undergoing an update in 2018). Seven competencies in the area of Leadership are mapped out as pre-requisites for mastery of management accounting. These include:

  • Motivating and inspiring others

  • Communication skills

  • Change management

  • Talent management

  • Collaboration and teamwork

  • Negotiation

  • Conflict management

Skills are rated on a continuum, spanning from limited to expert knowledge. Gaps can be quickly identified. This framework has proven valuable to many acting CFOs, Controllers, and hiring managers responsible for managing multiple teams and influencing decisions across the organization. It has also been a useful tool for those working in entry to mid-career level roles as they seek to advance within their organization.

The cost of ignoring soft skill development can be high. Success in the workplace require these skills.  For example OfficeTeam2 has found 95% of HR managers and 99% of workers rate one’s emotional quotient or EQ to be extremely important for managing emotions and reacting appropriately to the emotions of others. Other studies, like the one conducted by LeadershipIQ3, have found 46% of new hires fail within 18 months because of poor interpersonal skills.

No one likes to roam aimlessly through their career. What is required to advance is not always apparent. It’s a challenge to do an honest self-inventory of skills they have vs. skills they need to develop. Reaching out to others for help is a good strategy. Most superstars will tell you they got where they are through the help of someone else. So don’t go it alone. Stop and ask directions.


1 “The Secret to Midcareer Success,” The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2018

2 “Why You Need Emotional Intelligence At Work,” PR Newswire, February 23, 2017

3 “Why New Hires Fail (Emotional Intelligence Vs. Skills), Leadership IQ blog, accessed on March 26, 2018

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