Accounting | The Profession

Expert: Starting today, make leadership a long-term goal

To pave a way to that next level, CPAs need to dedicate themselves to ongoing learning so they can transition smoothly into the role

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Businesswoman giving speech at seminarA leader guides the team toward achieving the vision of the organization and where they want their division or the team to go (Getty Images/Luis Alvarez)

Taking on a leadership role means having the opportunity to drive change and create sustainable impact at the organizational level. CPA Canada recently spoke to Walid Hejazi, professor of economic analysis and policy and academic director at Rotman School of Management. He is the co-developer and leader of the Rotman-CPA Canada Strategic Leadership program which was created to help senior and executive CPAs and other finance professionals build their leadership skills and competencies to achieve their professional goals.

Following are some key takeaways from the discussion.

CPA CANADA: Why are CPAs the ideal candidates to lead teams?
Walid Hejazi (WH): The accounting profession has evolved, and CPAs are no longer just accountants. They are high-level thinkers who are trained to look at the big picture of projects, whether it be from an internal business perspective or external to the business. CPAs know the data and the evidence and are able to couple that with their ability to think critically and reason through complex challenges to help companies navigate through turbulent times.

CPA CANADA: How do you define the term “strategic leadership”?
WH: There are many definitions of leadership, but they ultimately come down to the ability to get others to share in your pursuit of your goal.

When we talk about strategic leadership, we are typically thinking about a leader who creates a vision and helps navigate the organization through the journey in a way that enables sustained and even improved competitive positions.

Key attributes of successful leaders include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills and communication.

CPA CANADA: How have pivotal shifts in our macro environment altered how we lead?
WH: We have seen a lot of changes over the past few decades, but perhaps none as dramatic as COVID-19 in terms of impacting how we work and interact with others, including how we manage and lead teams. One very important issue is corporate or organizational culture. As remote work becomes more prevalent and teams become increasingly dispersed across locations, leaders need to find a way to maintain a strong corporate culture.

It has also become far more important for businesses and organizations to cultivate strategies that are both responsible and sustainable. Today’s leaders must ensure they lead their organizations in this direction.

Profile image of Walid HejaziWalid Hejazi is professor of economic analysis and policy and academic director at Rotman School of Management (Image provided)

CPA CANADA: What do CPAs need to be thinking of and planning for designing their leadership journey?
WH: First, it is important to understand what the attributes of a great leader are. Then you have to work hard at developing those skills and attributes through courses, work experience and self-education. Bear in mind that you must be dedicated and focused on your goal over a long period of time. One of the key takeaways from our strategic leadership program is the need to plan both the transition into more senior roles and upskill existing senior leaders in dealing with current day challenges.

The CPA Way is an important resource that offers a methodical approach to addressing professional problems during your journey.

The Blue Ocean Leadership Grid is also a tool that can help you focus on those activities that will enable you to achieve the goals you lay out for yourself.

CPA CANADA: What is the difference between a leader and a manager?
WH: A leader is someone who guides their team toward achieving the vision of the organization and where they want their division to go. The manager then executes on those plans and makes sure that the strategy is implemented appropriately. As a leader, you need to avoid reverting to those behaviours that made you them a successful manager—and that is not always easy.

CPA CANADA: What other advice would you offer to a developing leader?
WH: I can’t stress enough the importance of networking and nurturing your personal brand. Networking is not just about talking to people when you need something. It’s about building relationships. Your personal brand is fundamentally tied to networking.

Reading and lifelong learning also help CPAs understand the world around them and articulate the implications for their businesses effectively.

CPA CANADA: What qualities would leaders of the future embody?
WH: To be successful leaders in the future, CPAs must display important attributes such as objectivity, integrity and due care, competence and confidentiality. Successful leaders also require the communication skills, technical competence and data-driven insight needed to navigate the digital age.

Emotional intelligence is another important attribute of a future leader. Daniel Goleman has categorized emotional intelligence domains as self-awareness, social awareness, relationship management and self-management. Above all, leaders must embody all this while always keeping in mind what’s best for their teams.


Join Walid Hejazi in Spring 2023 for the Rotman-CPA Canada Strategic Leadership program to evolve your leadership style and hone your interpersonal competencies. The virtual course will include group assignments with peers, class discussion and coaching activities to ensure what you learn aligns with your personal and professional goals.

Plus, learn how CPA leaders responded to unique challenges during the pandemic and the steps women and other equity deserving groups can take to overcome roadblocks to the C-suite.