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Six ways for Chartered Accountants to lead better: key insights from the latest ‘Building Resilience’ webinar

Leadership Purpose & Ethics - 6 key insights.

Leadership always matters, but in challenging times it’s more necessary than ever. But the nature of leadership is changing. As the latest ‘Building Resilience’ webinar explored, leadership today is underpinned by a sense of purpose and a clear vision, is guided by a moral compass and doesn’t aim to have all the answers.

The ‘Building Resilience’ series is aimed at young finance, accountancy and business professionals, students and One Young World Ambassadors. For this edition, more than 3,500 people joined the webinar from over 140 countries. Co-presenters Cara Haffey and Indy Hothi invited contributions from a diverse range of guest speakers on the theme of ‘Leadership, Purpose and Ethics’. Here are six key insights from the event.

1. Accountants can lead the way

Kate Robertson, the Co-Founder of One Young World, set the scene by talking about the need for leadership right now – and why it matters to finance professionals.

“With the pandemic, everything is up in the air. We’re dealing with uncertainty, so how do you get through this thing that is like being in a tumble dryer? It’s about holding on to values; it is keeping focus on purpose. And if that’s always hard to do, they’ve never been more important and never been as urgent as they are at the moment as we try to stem both a global pandemic and the impact of climate change – and prepare to deal with the lasting effects of both.”

Kate said the only way to address those twin challenges is by having accountability. “Accountability and ethics are actually your bag. You are not called accountants for nothing… you are among the elite who have the knowledge of what needs to be done and how to do it,” she said.

 

2. Leadership starts with a clear purpose

The economic crisis engulfing the world since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic is forcing organisations to re-examine their values and broader purpose. Leaders also need to understand what their purpose is and use it to guide their actions.

Diana Muendo CA, co-founder of M.Y.O, a creative studio, drew on her experience as an entrepreneur and also from watching other leaders. She said it is vital to lead with empathy, integrity and a purpose. “Businesses have mission statements. So why don’t we have our own personal mission statement? That’s my challenge to everyone today,” she said.

Monica Moisin, a lawyer and founder of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative, added that leadership isn’t just about accomplishments but about setting a path for others to follow. “Leadership is not only about getting things done, but it’s also about creating a vision for where we want to get. The vision is extremely important, being able to dream a bit more than we can reach… that’s always important. But there has to be balance: it cannot just be vision and dreaming; there has to be accountability.”

 

3. Leaders are accountable

Selva Montealegre, Diversity and Inclusion at AB InBev, took forward Monica’s theme of accountability. She advised the audience to form a network of people who share similar values. In her case, she is part of a peer group that removes anyone who isn’t living up to the collective standards and values. “That will help you to make yourself and the people around you accountable,” she said.

It’s also a transparent way of operating, Selva added. “There is no place for corruption; there is no place for unethical practices. It depends on us. We are building the future and I invite you to connect to transparency and ethics built on strong pillars around you. Surround yourself with a network that shares the same values and dreams you have,” she said.

 

4. Integrity and values matter

The purpose that a leader shows must be backed by a strong sense of integrity. Monica Moisin urged those attending the webinar to: “Find one mission of social impact that you invest in. We are here today all together to find a way to move forward: a system where the wellbeing of people is at the forefront; where profit is not the only measure of success.”

This is not just activism, Monica said. She related this subject back to business, pointing out that today’s informed consumers are more likely to hold brands to account when they don’t behave ethically. “Today more than ever, transparency and integrity in business are of paramount importance. Business models that do not value every actor across the supply chain are doomed to fail, and this includes artisans, craftspeople, custodians of traditional knowledge,” she said.

 

5. Show awareness of mental health challenges

Jonny Jacobs CA, Financial Director EMEA at Starbucks, is a passionate advocate for positive mental health. He spoke openly about his own struggles with mental health in his teens and talked about the importance of acknowledging challenges people may be experiencing in their lives. Mental health is not necessarily a subject that finance people often talk about, but after being asked to speak about it at a Chartered Accountancy event, Jonny was approached by people who found his talk inspiring. “Each time we share a story, we send a lifeboat of hope to somebody else,” he said.

Helping and supporting others is not just a moral and social responsibility in leadership but also has a business case, Jonny argued. “Actually, a healthy economy is about our environment, our communities, our employees – and the health of our employees.” He cited figures which showed the global cost of mental ill health is one trillion dollars. In the UK alone, mental health-related issues carry a £40 billion cost to business and a further £80 billion in social cost. “If we don’t get the health of our workforce right, then how can we have really healthy economies?”

 

6. Smart leaders adapt

Continuing the themes of vulnerability and empathy that earlier speakers introduced, Diana Muendo said that good leaders are flexible and can change their approach depending on the situation. When things are running smoothly in a startup, she said she loves empowering her team to ‘march on’. When Covid-19 hit, she had to adopt a ‘follow me’ style of leadership in a time of crisis. “In a small business, that vision becomes so important and as the founder, you are responsible for keeping that vision and keeping that fire alive.”

Selva agreed, pointing out that when she joined AB InBev to develop diversity and inclusion programmes across Latin America, the company didn’t have women in leadership roles. “I had to start with the ‘follow me’ approach because I had the expertise to tell them why this was important why it matters. But you cannot stick to just a ‘follow me’ because you need them to be in the spotlight as well. There are other people that can have different ideas and that can lift the team. It’s a mixture of both and it depends on the moment.”

Closing the webinar, Bruce Cartwright CA, Chief Executive of ICAS and Chartered Accountants Worldwide Board Member, summed up proceedings by saying leadership brings structure. The pillars of this structure are purpose and integrity. He likened it to navigating with a compass. “The moral compass comes with the sense of purpose and a clear vision, but one that people can buy into because it’s not about ‘me’, it’s about ‘us’, and going on a shared journey.”