Leadership is making a comeback – what does this mean for finance professionals?
Driven by the meteoric rise of visionary tech billionaires, the popularity of strong leadership in the workplace has soared in the last seven years. In 2012, just 14% of employees said strong leadership was an important factor in attracting them to a new employer. That’s doubled to 28% in 2019. While the value of strong leadership may have been boosted by tech entrepreneurs, its influence is not limited to Silicon Valley and Tech City.
I’ve talked here before about the long-term trend across the UK. But the importance of strong leadership to accountancy and finance professionals means the strength of management is becoming critical to the attraction and retention of talent in financial services. When we asked employees across the UK whether strong leadership was a reason to stay in their jobs, 26% said it was. But this figure leapt to 31% in accountancy, insurance and financial services professionals. Demonstrating the strength of your organisation’s leadership is critical to this cohort. Faced with extensive skills shortages, finance is absolutely feeling the talent pinch. Employers need to think hard about how they showcase the strength of their leadership to their workforce. Salary and benefits are particularly important to people in the sector – but they cost employers a great deal (salaries on Wall Street are at the highest they have been in 10 years). Ensuring your organisation’s employer brand demonstrates the strength of its leadership could conceivably help ease wage demands and the cost of counteroffers.
There are a couple of factors fuelling the demand for strong leadership in finance. First, many experienced finance professionals still bear the scars from the financial crisis. Accountants are now looking for their leaders to guide them through the next 18 months of Brexit instability. Ultimately, strong leaders are being seen as the guardians of job security.
Second, finance and banking is also experiencing, potentially, it’s most transformative period in recent history. Accountants want their leaders to set out a definitive strategy to navigate their organisation through a digital future; they know automation will disrupt the sector – even more than it has already – as we head towards 2025. That requires a shift in skills, organisational culture, and mindset. Only a strong management team will be able to make that happen. When you combine digitisation and economic uncertainty, it’s clear why strong leadership is paramount to job seekers in the profession.
But if you’re looking to move employer within the space, it’s not all a bed of roses. Almost a quarter of accountants, banking, finance and insurance professionals (23%) say they’re considering leaving their current job due to poor management. While candidates’ demands for strong leadership are high, they are not necessarily being met.
Accountants and those in financial services are not the only professionals who feel that way. One in five (21%) HR professionals say they would consider leaving their current job due to poor leadership. The worst offending sector is Property & Real Estate (including facilities management), where 29% of candidates said poor management was encouraging them to flock to a new employer.
At the other end of the spectrum, IT workers appear to have far less to complain about. Only 16% of IT professionals – including developers and cyber security experts – say they would move to pastures new due to poor leadership. This suggests that leadership in IT is considerably stronger than in finance and HR!
Given the great business leaders of our age – Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg – all seem to have a digital / IT background, perhaps that’s no surprise. For a decade, tech entrepreneurs have secured a place in the global hall of leadership fame. They’re great role models for leadership across the industry.
While the strength of a potential employer’s leadership is clearly important, it’s difficult to measure. Job seekers can do three things to gauge it. If they don’t, there’s every chance an employer won’t live up to their expectations – quickly leading to professional disillusionment and a Catch 22 recruitment cycle.
First, job seekers need to conduct some basic desk research. They need to look at the firm’s website, social media, LinkedIn, and especially at Glassdoor – which gives candidates an opportunity to explore feedback from current and ex-employees, including rating the CEO.
Second, they need to work in partnership with a good recruiter. Ahead of an interview, they‘ll be able to provide a lot of the basic information and more.
Third, use the interview process to your own advantage. When you’re going for a job interview, don’t be afraid to ask your new boss directly what their preferred leadership style is. How does it fit with yours? If you have more than one interviewer, watch how the hiring manager interacts with their colleagues. Paying attention to your potential new manager will help you understand what kind of leader they are. After all, you wouldn’t want to leave it too late and end up with a bad boss.
You should aim to establish whether a new boss will be the mentor and leader you’re looking for to help drive your career forwards. Listen to the questions they ask you and try to understand what their priorities are. If they ask about your goals and how you plan to reach them, you can assume that they have an interest in your professional development. Are they looking for someone who is going to show leadership skills and be a potential leader, or someone who will follow instructions precisely? Working for a manager with no interest in your future just feels a waste of time; they should want you to succeed as much as you do. Look out for questions about times when you have used your initiative – or if they want to know about previous responsibilities in past jobs. If you’re hoping to move into a more supervisory position these types of questions could be key. After all, you want to be a leader, too, one day.
Ruth Jacobs is the managing director of Randstad Business Solutions