Guest Article: Identifying Future Leaders

Katie Strehler

Katie Strehler

By: Katie Strehler, Chief Human Resources Officer, Rehmann

Selecting those who will lead a company into its next phase goes far beyond identifying the most talented individuals—or appointing those with the most experience—it’s a process that forces companies to look within and decide what kind of organization they want to be. This is especially true for the accounting industry. At Rehmann, we expect our leaders to set the tone for associates and the clients they serve with their empathy, their demeanor and how they leverage strengths of their associates.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to identify leaders without the input and feedback of those they will work with. Engaging associates at every level is instrumental when considering which individuals best exercise the core values needed to lead a business or business segment. Both how an individual works on a team and the attitude they bring out of others are crucial elements to evaluate to determine how the associate will perform tactically in practice.

When I look for prospective leaders among current associates as well as external individuals we are considering, I ask myself four primary questions:

  • Does this person view a team as a group of people, and not just as employees?
  • Can this person bring out the best in others by identifying and leveraging individuals’ strengths?
  • Does this person have the ability to see things from other associates’ perspectives?
  • Does this person have a high degree of self-awareness?

At Rehmann, if we believe one of our current associates fits the bill based on these four questions, we will likely invite them to participate in our Rehmann leadership program.

Through our internal Emerging Leaders program, we teach how to lead associates the Rehmann way. Training exercises in the leadership program are designed for individuals to better understand the business and how to bring out the best in others to accomplish business objectives. A key skill we teach—and one we look for in potential leaders—is the ability to actively listen. We don’t want leaders to listen to associates for the sole purpose of providing a response, we want them to listen in a way that demonstrates understanding, so they can act with empathy and offer solutions.

Setting a positive tone in the face of adversity is especially important in the accounting industry when determining if an individual can be a successful leader. With ever-changing accounting methods, tax codes and regulations to adhere to—along with high pressure clients and tight deadlines—a leader in this industry needs to demonstrate the ability to perform and lead under stressful conditions. We typically search for individuals who can control their emotions, help control the emotions of their team and leverage the strengths of the right people to handle any circumstance thrown their way.

The most important action we practice in our leadership identification and development process is the support we provide our emerging leaders. To offer this support, our first step is to provide a sponsor. We match our potential future leaders with a sponsor outside of their current department to provide honest and transparent feedback, as well as an outside perspective. A sponsor’s role is to advocate for their protégé and provide a pathway for them to achieve success.

To match our emerging talent with sponsors, we allow the associate, or protégé, to select three potential sponsors, from which we identify best fit based on department and expertise areas, experience levels, gender and personality. Through this sponsorship process, the most crucial factor is the transparent and honest feedback sponsors provide. In order to truly cultivate talent—and create a positive, company culture—honest feedback is essential.

Lastly, to develop successful leaders, we often promote individuals, that we believe in, to leadership positions even before they may believe they are “ready.” If we believe an associate actively practices the traits we seek in our leaders, and sets the tone to create the best work environment for our associates, we want them in leadership positions as soon as possible. We take it upon ourselves to coach and guide them within their particular role, until they feel comfortable enough to hit the ground running.

Fostering an environment of successful associates and teams starts at the top. It’s the role of an organization’s current leadership to identify and develop the next generation of future leaders to keep business trending upward.